KARL DENSON'S TINY UNIVERSE | NYC

If gluttony's a sin then book me an aisle seat on the next train to hell in any other car than with the right wing Republicans because even three nights of trying to absorb the supernova that is Karl Denson's Tiny Universe isn't enough. The extreme joy that he and his band inspire is the same that's led to countless parades and holidays manufactured to open the doors of happiness usually set closed by the daily grind. But the only fanfare surrounding KDTU starts with a slight up and backward lift of Karl's right foot which sets in motion a ride that will test the limits of your physical endurance. Their soon to be released debut Blue Note album, Karl's Dance Lesson #2 is a fitting moniker to instantly tell you what you'll experience as their sound unfolds from your earhole to your soul.

Everyone in the room was jazzed for another power dose from the undisputed heavyweight king of the late night throw down performance. Karl combines the type of artistry you'll find from acts like Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang accelerated and lifted to topless levels with the numbing intensity of Jimi Hendrix to the power of infinity. I've never seen a room full of material goodies stretch smiles further than they were on both sides of the microphones, as Karl gave us a gift from deep inside of him on his birthday. One of the many beautiful aspects of KDTU is that this isn't a case of some talented guy who established himself with another band now doing his own thing with a bunch of tag alongs. Rather, every single musician he plays with is capable of the most delectable groove stirs as well as solos. And, in the middle of this funk maelstrom, you can catch Karl or trumpet player Andy Cleaves clinking off interesting beats on bells and other small percussive trinkets.

The tone of night one was set perfectly early on with Ruff, Tuff & Tumble in which that two man brass section explodes out of the gate like a hungry Florida greyhound, generating the same kind of dual power you'd get from Al Schnier & Chuck Garvey, those fine boys from moe.. Lest any ideas pop forth from your imagination, please take it from me that KDTU's lead guitar slot is an overspilling, bejeweled goblet of it's own in the form of Brian Jordan. I've often felt that true power and ability aren't shown best in billboard fashion but in the hints that you get which come across in a more subtle style while losing none of their potency. Brian helps the overall sound so much even when he's not threshing forth one of his brilliant solos but, when he does get it going full on, it's tsunami bliss with the thought provoking density of any name you could pick out of the hat of legendary guitarists out there.

Although each night was full of generous amounts of hardcore kicks, the guys aren't only about dropping bombs. While still eminently danceable, you'll also get to experience stuff with lighter, craftier touches like The Barbecue Song which bookended the three night run and contains playful lyrics which will give you a dead on idea of how giddily rambunctious this band can be when you get them going. It doesn't take much and, even though it's obvious they dig on getting the crowd going, the love you can feel in every muscle twist on the floor is egged and elevated by similar movements that the artists can't contain either. Throughout it all I was magnetized by the bass of Ron Johnson, tucked off in the corner behind the keyboards and slapping that thing with mixes of strong currents, repeated boogie phrasing while also capable of laying off for the benefit of the group thing. And that tells one of the greatest stories of our scene; that of experiencing an act where you can be as easily sucked in and find yourself embraced by more than one or two musicans at a time, the only challenge contained in trying to take it all in at once. Although I was right underneath the organ and couldn't see David Veith, I could feel him fill my chest every night with some very high arching passages that fit perfectly with some of the sharper, jazz riffs from Cleaves. Oh, yeah, and then there's Eric Bolivar on the drums looking more juiced than a pooch in a room full of assholes to sniff. Anyone who can keep up with this crew indeed has thick chops but Eric and the second percussionist went a long journey's distance beyond that to establish themselves in our hearts. Also sharing in the celebration were guitarist Melvin Sparks on Wednesday (Melvin couldn't make it back for Thursday or Friday due to some back problems so please send out wishes from your heart so he can return soon) and DJ Logic for the last two shows, continuing to find interesting ways to promote the work of variously ultra-talented groups with his mixes and cuts.

For night number three, local favorite Robert Randolph opened things up with his own brand of high energy gospel blues positivity laying down a hefty anty on the table for Denson to consider. Walking around before he started, a bunch of folks told Karl that Robert brought the house down already to which he snapped his head back and exclaimed, "WHAT?" So on came the Tiny Universe with closer type intensity all over their first two tunes, not to show up Randolph and his crew but to make things all the more interesting without any connotation of some half-assed machismo that needed to be satisfied. By far, night number three was the ripper of the run, personified by the first set closer, a song of Ghanian origin that represented KDTU's penchant for building their grooves layer after layer to dizzying heights, slowing down as if to make sure everyone's still with them before they slam back down on it and whisk the room off for another spin around the galaxy.

After they ended the first two gigs around 2:30am and since they were due to fly out to Portland for his dawn contribution to the String Cheese festival, I began to think that the last night of the Bowery Ballroom shows was going to be short and intense so they could get on their way but that was far from the case and why Denson is commonly referred to as the "hardest working man in show business." Not only did they pop out a double encore, one of many places during his shows where he wow'd us as much with the flute as he did with a saxophone or his voice, but they happily chilled for a while to chat and sign autographs because they and many of the audience were flying at such high levels of energy that going off into the night just didn't seem satisfactory at that point. All in all, my time with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe taught me that I need to start getting my money's worth out of my gym membership cuz I was one tuckered freak trying to keep my eyes open in the cab when all was said and done and I hadn't even reached NYE yet...

Karl and the guys are off for the next few weeks but will hit the road again out west toward the end of January and then swing back out here where they'll be at Irving Plaza in March so stay tuned for details. There's no doubt that this can be a maddeningly frustrating world but why worry when we all have such a healthy way to work it all out as we do in Karl Denson's Tiny Universe? Howie Greenberg
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Go See Live BBQ!!!

[Published on: 1/1/01]

Take full advantage of all JamBase has to offer by signing up for an account!


You'll receive

show alerts

when your favorite artists announce shows, be eligible to enter contests for

free tickets

, gain the ability to

share your personalized live music calendar

and much more. Join JamBase!