KDTU w/ Hairy Apes BMX | 10.24 | Fox Theatre | Boulder, CO
If acid jazz is still alive and kicking, it has a lot to do with Karl Denson. A role with Lenny Kravitz's band in the late 80s set the stage for him to find his way with the funk powerhouse Greyboy Allstars in the early 90s. But when the GBA strayed apart, Denson hardly missed a beat and founded his Tiny Universe to keep the party going.
Coincidentally, the Allstars have reunited to perform selected dates recently. However, Robert Walter's 20th Congress and Denson's Tiny Universe both seem to be in heavy touring mode this year, so any GBA reunions will remain a rare treat for the lucky few. Each Greyboy alum has proven himself as a competent bandleader, spreading the gospel of acid jazz to an expanding audience.
Denson's Tiny Universe is in the early part of a national fall tour, playing three nights in Colorado before heading east. Opening for KDTU at the Fox Theatre were the Hairy Apes BMX, led by percussionist extraordinaire Mike Dillon. Dillon, also known for his exploits with Garage A Trois and Critters Buggin, has toured as a member of KDTU in recent years and played on their latest album The Bridge. Consisting of vibraphone, bass guitar, percussion, and drums, the Hairy Apes sounded more than a little bit like the Beastie Boys circa Check Your Head, mixing punk and funk in a raw, high energy set. What Dillon lacks in vocal harmony he more than makes up for in explosive percussion and vibraphone playing. While his band mates jam away, he discards one sound for another, constantly searching for a new rhythmic layer from each different instrument.
KDTU took the stage to a packed house and kicked things off with an older funk composition called "The Hen." The spirit of James Brown was evoked more than a few times this evening by Brian Jordan's funky guitar licks as well as Chris Littlefield and Denson's tight horn arrangements. "NY City" was a long jam that simply left me shaking my head with amazement, and by this point the crowd was feeding the energy right back at the band. Projected images of the Big Apple behind the band complimented the musical explorations. "Soul Driftin'" featured David Veith's elegantly funky Rhodes piano and organ work.
While the guitar work up to this point had been solid, it didn't demand attention. So in the next few numbers, "Because of Her Beauty" and "Windjammer," Brian Jordan shined in extended solos. He used a jazz tone in his playing that was beautiful to behold. A Denson flute solo help bring the first set to a stellar end.
"Hop Scotch" picked things up as Littlefield's trumpet laid down a smooth jazz groove that the band built into a very heavy, spacey composition. I was struck by the band's ability to shift gears from funk to jazz to jam with ease. I don't remember KDTU being this versatile or this good. I also noticed the Fox's sound system mix providing both front and rear channels of sound. Guitars up front and keyboards behind effectively added more dimension to the music.
Midway through the second set, Mike Dillon set up his percussion kit alongside drummer Zak Najor for the remainder of the show. These two conjured some magic in "Whip Wop" and "Criminal Mastermind," as the rhythm section suddenly became multi-tonal and multi-textured. The band continued to play into the morning with "Almost Seedless" and "Goldmine," tunes that kept the crowd enthralled.
While his mates soloed, Karl would look down over the audience and just smile at the party going on. Denson is a strong, dynamic bandleader; there's no doubt who's calling the shots on stage. His complex orchestration arrangements resemble his disciplined playing. Mike Dillon has heaped praise on Denson for his work ethic, and Denson's dedication to practice apparently rubs off on his band mates. You can tell KDTU pay their dues. This kind of tight interplay and musicianship is a rare thing. Jordan's guitar work, in particular, impressed me this night with a tasty vocabulary that spanned jazz, funk, and more.
Like a fine wine, KDTU's groove jazz continues to improve over time. You can hear it in their live recordings over the past few years. 2003 is a fine vintage for KDTU. The audience left the show exhausted, giving Karl plenty to smile about.
Words and Images by: Haig Assadourian
JamBase | Colorado
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