Karl Denson: Dance Lesson #2

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While some of the jazz cognoscenti may suggest that the acid jazz scene has played out its welcome, the fact remains that artists such as Medeski, Martin & Wood and others of their ilk seem to be finding new things to say within the borders of improvisation and dance rhythms. Now add to the list saxophonist/flutist Karl Denson, a decidedly groove-based player who has been straddling the lines of jazz and more popular forms since 1992. A former sideman with Lenny Kravitz and a co-founder of the Greyboy Allstars, Denson gives us his very hip and danceable Blue Note debut in the guise of Dance Lesson #2.

It’s no accident that these tracks, nine originals in all, are funky and in the pocket. Denson calls on the services of bassist Chris Wood, guitarist Melvin Sparks, and organ player Leon Spencer, Jr., the latter two gentlemen serving as two of Prestige Record’s house musicians during the early ‘70s. Also on hand for various cuts are B-3 man Ron Levy, guitarist Charlie Hunter, and DJ Logic on turntables.

The title track finds Denson preaching on his alto (Hank Crawford comes to mind), underpinned nicely by Spencer’s 5-note riff and with DJ Logic’s organic scratching added liberally. Sparks then goes for some serious twang, with Spencer a bit more subdued by comparison. “Like Like Dope” is more of a slow bump and grind (Logic’s turntables shout “what, what, what”) as Denson’s flute gets down and talks dirty. Could it be that Karl’s “Rumpwinder” is an answer to Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder?” It’s possible, but more likely that Morgan’s “Cornbread” served as inspiration, since the stop time passages are almost lifted verbatim.

“Flute Down” obviously gives us more of Denson’s spicy flute work, the mood akin to classics from the CTI era (remember Hubert Laws?). “A.J. Bustah” is the most straight ahead tune of the bunch, Denson’s gutsy tenor making the scene in vigorous fashion. Closing things out, “A Shorter Path,” “I Want the Funk,” and “Who Are You?” are groove tunes of different hues, the last named clocking in at almost 12 minutes and stirring up some exceptional solos from Denson, Sparks, and Spencer. In the final analysis, Dance Lesson #2 successfully avoids the obvious traps that come with this kind of material. Never do things sound like the latest flavor from “WAVE-land.” The inherent likeability of the project as a whole will appeal not only to jazz fans, but also those listeners with more trendy predilections.

Track Listing: Dance Lesson #2, Like Like Dope, Rumpwinder, Flute Down, A.J. Bustah, A Shorter Path #1, A Shorter Path #2, I Want the Funk, Who Are You?

Personnel: Karl Denson (tenor sax, alto sax, and flute), Melvin Sparks (guitar), Charlie Hunter (guitar), Chris Wood (bass), Leon Spencer, Jr. (organ), Ron Levy (organ), Zak Najor (drums), EJ Rodriguez (percussion), DJ Logic (turntables)

Record Label: Blue Note Records

Style: Funk/Groove


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