Welcome to the world-famous Knitting Factory in Hollywood, CA. Huh? Yes, the legendary Knitting Factory, long the home to a massive melting pot of avant-garde ranging from Tim Berne to John Zorn has donned the silver glitter glasses and replicated itself smack in the middle of old Hollywood. This new millennial version of the Knitting Factory is just a few short blocks down Hollywood Blvd from the historic Mann’s Chinese Theater and is in the same complex as an AMC. So coming up the escalator from the underground parking garage, one can go into the latest blockbuster movie or into Michael Dorf’s (CEO for the Knitting Factory) lavish new nightclub. Though it has reminiscent characteristics of the original, it wreaks of tourism. It would have fit better up on the Sunset stretch of urban trendiness, but regardless of its origin, the new Knitting Factory is a top-notch room to see a band perform. The sound system is state of the art, the stage is roomy and the sightlines are good from the floor or the upstairs balcony.
All in all, a perfect place for saxophonist Karl Denson to hover his Tiny Universe for a few hours (made even more ironic since the club is located in a complex called the Galaxy). Denson and his Tiny Universe sauntered out on to the stage and proceeded to tune up for several minutes, as if they were preparing the mothership for take-off. And away we went. Bodies unlocked and began shakin’ to a deep phat funky mix of soul, acid jazz, rock and R&B. Denson instantly reminds one of Maceo Parker, but stretches that comparison when after three numbers, he switches to flute without losing command of the band or the onlookers amidst the packed house.
Karl is no stranger to playing for sold out audiences having been a part of Lenny Kravitz’s band, contributing his sax work to Lenny’s classic first two albums Let Love Rule and Mama Said. From 1992 – 1995, Denson recorded four acoustic jazz albums for the German Jazz label Minor Music, the last of which was entitled Chunky Pecan Pie and found him paired with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland. Karl then flipped gears and spent two years recording four more albums with trombone legend and James Brown sideman Fred Wesley. It was during this period that Denson created, perhaps, the Ultimate Groove Band, The Greyboy Allstars which meshed the best of jazz and a love of dance music. The Allstars quickly became one of the largest drawing acts in the country. And from there, he debuted Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe (KDTU), a kind of funk outfit that would keep Prince on his toes, for once KDTU lay into a groove, they ride it for all its worth with the crowd right there inspiring them to push the boundaries a little further.
Evidence of this is found on the band’s debut recording, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe which played at high enough volume with the right lighting and some proper herbal additives, transported me directly back to the club. You won’t miss the over-priced drinks, only the ladies in full swing with their arms in the air. If you can sit still during burners like “Ruff Tuff & Tumble” and “Family Tree” then you are seriously in need of a pulse. The band provides the bed of funk and Denson roars and soars over and under the propulsive beat and could easily hold his own amidst the likes of cats like Joshua Redman or Branford Marsalis. The recording is definitely a snapshot of the band’s live performance as the half dozen tracks range from six to nine minutes and, several of which, have crescendos at their conclusion. I closed my eyes and replaced the few seconds of silence with the mad cheers from the previous night. KDTU also knows when to breathe and adjusts down to a mid tempo speed for “...Reminded of Sunshine” and “Can You Feel It” before exhaling a mellow vibe on the CD’s closer “Fallin’”.
Live or not, Karl Denson and his All-star sound factory knit a cocoon of sound round and round until you’re trapped inside his Tiny Universe, which is a blissful place to be.
Rating: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe - 4 out of 5 stars Rating: KDTU @ Knitting Factory - 4.5 out of 5 stars
Track Listing: Ruff, Tuff & Tumble / Family Tree / ...Reminded of Sunshine / Latin Snap / Can You Feel It / Fallin’
Personnel: Karl Denson (saxophone, flute, vocals, percussion) / Carlos Washington (trumpet, backing vocals) / David Veith (Fender Rhodes and Hammond B-3) / Joey Carano (guitar) / Chris Stillwell (electric bass, backing vocals) / Alan Evans (drums)