KARL DENSON'S TINY UNIVERSE CUT THE FAT

 
It's frustrating that black people are of out of touch with their history. We're all about the history of black music. It's mostly white audiences listening to black music and it's really just a cultural and economic barrier that black people have allowed themselves to be caught up in. |--Karl Denson
 
Photo: ©2004 Mark Davidson

KDTU has spent the better part of this year writing new tunes, cleaning things up and clarifying things with each other, which has revealed nuances that only happen when a group has this kind of conversation. When asked if the band is starting to sound like the music he hears in his head, Karl states, "Yeah, I'd say we're 75-percent there. I just told the guys the other day at soundcheck, 'We know the music's good now so it's really going to boil down to the solos.' It's going to boil down to everybody pushing their solos up to the compositional level of the music. Even though we're moving towards things being vocally based I still really push that we're a jazz band. That's something I want the guys to always stress for themselves; to play good jazz."

Live one can hear that the solos are more concise but they're saying more in that little space, something especially clear in Karl's solos, where he goes in, says what needs saying and then gets out. "Cut the fat" has become a recent band motto.

The modern influence of nu-soul, trip-hop, rap and other flavors of electronic music culture are poking their head up in the new compositions.


Elgin Park by Tony Stack
"Yes because I like that stuff. My drummer will tell you I'm all about new beats because I think that's the heart of it," explains Denson. "Elgin (Park), the guitarist in the Greyboy Allstars, he's a great producer and we were talking about this. He said, 'In dance music a beats old in about a month.' I love that about it. We're always going to be jazz guys, trying to play our instruments better, but as far as being influenced by this music, well, I love black music. I love all kinds of music but I really love my history as a black artist so I'm always interested in what's going on there."

The Tiny Universe doesn't draw the line in the sand like the Marsalis clan, who often make proclamations about what constitutes legitimate black music and what doesn't. Denson is quick to defend his fellow jazzmen.


KDTU :: ©2004 Mark Davidson
"I think those guys have their niche, Wynton especially - Branford likes everything, the last time I saw him we were both sitting in with the Allman Brothers - but in order to play that music as amazingly as those guys play it you kind of have to draw a line in the sand and say 'I'm not going to go over there.' In order to play that music as amazingly as they play it you need to force everything else out and be like one of those guys in the '40s and '50s. They didn't have the option of hearing a bunch of other stuff and deciding to play this or play that. Jazz was the music of the time and that's why it was so amazing. I think you need to be a bit of a monk and cloister yourself away to play be-bop the way those guys play it."

Brian Jordan explicates some of his own influences, most of which one can hear filtering into the mix.

"Prince is definitely a big influence. In general I am heavily influenced by funk and soul music when it comes to the feel and structure of a song. Though I love Afro-beat and classic rock as well. In my view, many of the recordings of the sixties and seventies are un-equaled in production and arrangement quality. Today, it just seems a lot more rare to find music with as much care and attention put into sound integrity and artistic detail. In general I am pretty open to whatever sounds good, regardless of genre. Good music is good music."


Karl Denson by Tony Stack
Karl continues, discussing the influence of outside music on KDTU, "A lot! I listen to music all the time. A lot of the time it's just trying to figure out what inspires the direction you're going in. Sometimes I'll write a tune and there's some other stuff back there that inspired it and I'll go on a search. It might be an old Motown tune or it might be an old jazz tune but I'll go on a search to find out where that idea came from so I can maybe grab a few more things from it. It might be a Bjork tune and I realize it's how the drums are on it. Then I can tell the guys, 'This is where this came from' so they can check it out as a reference."

Getting any group to incorporate all these threads into a single garment is a challenge, and a new one for Jordan, who's just started taking the reins a bit in their concerts and on their forthcoming studio album.


Brian Jordan of KDTU
By Haig Assadourian
"The biggest challenge is dealing with my own uniqueness, while trying to convey the feel of my songs to the band. I tend to be very specific about what I want in my songs. While my songs can sometimes seem very cut and dry on the surface, I feel it's the abstract things like feel and intent that really push my music. As well, things like rhythmic and melodic counterpoint are important to me. Unfortunately, many players don't have much of a concept of that."

"Being a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards), being schooled as well as self taught, I have my own set of influences and experiences which range from soul music, Afro-beat, to punk-rock and classic rock, and much, much more. My songs tend to display elements of my various experiences and influences. So saying to a musician that, 'You're playing the right notes but could you play it with some rock and roll attitude.' Or, 'These notes need to be played exactly as written because the concept of the rhythm is very strict as in Afro-beat and that's what really makes this beat work with the song.' It's conveying these more abstract concepts of music which can't be written and that might not really be understood without direct experience. That's been the biggest challenge. Those are the things that I tend to like best about music. For example, the unique things that make reggae, reggae or that make classic country, classic. It's not really just about the notes for me. A computer can play notes now. For example, take the song 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' and put the sheet music in front of a classical orchestra. Is it going to 'rock' hard like The Clash? It's probably not likely. For me, it's about how to create a feel, a vibe or a mood. So, the biggest challenge has been trying to convey those types of elements to the band as we incorporate a couple of my songs into the band, because everyone else has their own set of influences which may not include mine."


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