We have done the groove-jazz thing. Groove-jazz is fun, but now I think it's time to prove ourselves as good song craftsmen, in order to take it to the next level.

--Brian Jordan

Photo by Haig Assadourian

If there's any one linking element to their sound it's the drum. No matter what they are playing underneath there is always rhythm. "We ARE a dance band!" exclaims Denson. "I'm a closet drummer. I would LOVE to be a drummer. If I could be a proficient drummer I would stop playing the sax tomorrow." When I mention it's clear he loves his cowbell this elicits a deep laugh from Karl.

KDTU by Jaci Downs
"I just finished my studio and as soon as I get home the first thing I'm going to do is set up my drums in my little drum booth and I'll be out there banging every day. My goal is to learn a beat a day. When I get to about ten of them I'll stop and hone in on them but I want a vocabulary of about ten beats between the jazz things and the hip-hop things and rock things. Then I'll be the happiest man on Earth!"

One of the haymakers one doesn't see coming is KDTU's ability to transform rock into a slinkier cousin, something they demonstrated at the Fillmore with a salacious cover of Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot" that raised temperatures in the house.

"It was actually Karl's idea to cover it," states Brian. "When he first suggested it I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about it working with this band. As well, I didn't think the song was as strong of a Zeppelin cover. I would have picked 'Kashmir' or 'Good Times Bad Times.' The first time we played the song was at the High Sierra Music Festival in the late night music hall. Honestly, I thought it just sounded okay. I still wasn't convinced. It was the move to really make the song our own and not try to play it like the original recording that really made it work for us. The Meters inspired funk groove underneath and stripped down guitar part during the verses made it sound more like the Tiny Universe. Hence, you could say that it was a move be ourselves while playing the song and not trying to play it like Led Zeppelin playing the song."

Karl Denson by Jaci Downs
One thing you won't find at a lot of Tiny Universe shows is a black audience. While hesitant to bring it up with Denson, I found he was nakedly honest and not a little insightful about the matter.

"I think it's just economics. I think black people take what they're given as opposed to having the freedom to go out and explore. I don't think they explore as much as white audiences do," explains Karl. "You end up in this weird place where older black people listen to smooth jazz and younger black people listen to hip-hop and that's kinda all that's there. They get it off the radio and that's as far as they go with it. So, I think it's that and the economic situation of who can afford to go out to clubs. When we're in certain places there are fans that will follow us around to every show that's within 200 miles. I think economically that's not going to happen from a black perspective."

"It's frustrating to know that black people are kind of out of touch with their history. We're kinda all about the history of black music. It's the same argument that Wynton Marsalis had with the rebirth of jazz in the '80s. I heard him complain about it a lot. 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. There used to be all these black bands--(pause)--it also has to do with black people's instinctual creativity based on dance music and there's a direct connection there. We're not cutting edge dance music so there's gonna be a gap there because what's being created with the kids in the hip-hop era is all dance, to a certain extent. There's also a gap between what our history is and what's going on right now that's a little tragic."

There's a growing super hero vibe to the Tiny Universe, myth making that expands on the stature of the band in graphics and philosophy, starting with the introduction of the Orb Man.

Karl Denson :: Orb Man
"I'm a real comic book head. I'm a full Marvel kid so I've always had this whole super hero idea that's now based around the band," Denson tells us. "We finally got the design work done and Orb Man is the first character. Then, I've got four of the six guys in the band with their super powers done. Eventually we'll have all the characters done and I'm working with some other people on the idea of an actual comic book."

"I stopped reading comics about ten years ago. When I was with Lenny Kravitz I subscribed to about ten different titles and I would wait to pick 'em up so that I could read four issues in a row rather than wait until the next month. I'd take them on a plane and flying to Europe would be such fun."

In addition to his role in the Tiny Universe, Denson has also reactivated the legendary Greyboy Allstars. He explains what's next for that project.

"We did it and I told the guys I didn't want to run the steam out of it so we worked on a bigger plan. The plan now is for the Allstars to not go out again until we have a new record. So, we're going into the studio over the next three to four months to hash things out for late 2005 or 2006 that will be organized and have some push. It's a great band and we all totally dig each other and like playing together. It's fun to get back together but in terms of quality control without having a new thing and putting some real time into it we'll just blow the steam out of it."

So, what does the future hold for KDTU, what will be the thing or things that push them up to the proverbial next level?

Brian Jordan states, "Good songwriting. We have done the groove-jazz thing. Groove-jazz is fun, but now I think it's time to prove ourselves as good song craftsmen, in order to take it to the next level."

Their illustrious leader explains, "We're reorganizing on all levels right now to find things that actually function and paying good attention to them. That's the rule for us; to really pay attention to everything we're doing and then from there making a great record. I want our next studio album to be one that people say 'Have you heard it? Wow!' We're putting it on everyone's shoulders right now to unite and get it down."

Dennis Cook
JamBase | California
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Karl Denson's Tiny Universe is featured in the JamBase 2005 Wall Calendar!


[Published on: 12/23/04]

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