Galactic/Karl Denson's Tiny Universe at Fillmore in Denver
February 20, 2010
The grooves were deep, the rhythms infectious, the funk ubiquitous. Saturday night the Fillmore in Denver served up a double helping of syncopation with Galactic and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. The Tiny Universe opened with an hour and twenty minute set of sometimes carefully arranged grooves. Galactic followed with two hours of a more primal and gritty version of the funk.
Galactic has been a band without a vocalist for several years since Theryl de' Clouet left in the mid aughts. Since then, they've technically been an instrumental band, but on their last couple of albums, they picked up numerous guest vocalists; many of them of the hip hop variety. That was especially true for 2007's From the Corner to the Block. The current CD, ya-ka-may cuts a broader musical swath incorporating brass bands (Rebirth), blues guitar (Walter "Wolfman" Washington), R&B and soul legends (Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, John Boutte) and, according to the liner notes, a form of hip hop indigenous to New Orleans called "bounce" some of which is performed by "sissy rappers." While it may have been unfortunate that folks like Irma Thomasand Allen Toussaint weren't part of Saturday night's show, the funk gods mercifully delivered us from any "sissy rappers." Whew!
What we did get was a guest appearance of Corey Henry, trombone player for the New Orleans based Rebirth Brass Band. It's obvious Henry is used to being a front man. He acted like Galactic was his band not only wailing on the trombone but singing (and occasionally quasi rapping) and even chatting it up with the audience between songs. His exuberance boiled over about half way through the set when he pulled a Buddy Guy (or was it a Howlin' Wolf?), hopping off the stage and into the audience while uncorking an extended bone solo. He sliced through the audience with his trombone like a machete through the jungle. Well, maybe not that destructive. I didn't notice any bodies in his wake. In any event, he ended up climbing onto a four foot high and two inch wide railing about half way back in the hall. He continued his solo while standing on the railing rocking forward and back with his trombone alternately pointed skyward and straight down. He got down and marched back to the stage. Maybe it was inspiration from Guy or Wolf or maybe it was that New Orleans marching band tradition that inspired his little jaunt. I don't know how many trombone players you know, but at least for Colorado trombone players, this sort of behavior is extremely uncharacteristic. But then again, we don't do Mardi Gras either. Maybe it all makes sense.
Galactic performs mostly original compositions, but since they lean a little toward the jam band side, they throw in some cover tunes every once in awhile, including Hendrix' "Manic Depression." Saturday night they brought opening act the Tiny Universe on stage for the Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" and Allen Toussaint's "Goin' Down Slowly." The latter tune, having been written by a New Orleans artist leant itself easily to the Galactic funk treatment, but the Band was hardly known as a funk outfit. However the sing along chorus is so much fun, it's impossible to go wrong. Everybody now, "Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me, If I spring a leak..." Well, carry on. Karl Denson handled the vocals on both those tunes.
Speaking of Karl Denson, he and his Tiny Universe put on a tight, energetic opening set. Denson not only sings, but plays alto and tenor saxophone and flute. He has so much fun, he basically danced during the whole set including while he played his instruments. The Tiny Universe blends influences like jazz, soul, rock and funk for a sound full of hybrid vigor. Particularly tasty was Denson's playing with trumpeter Chris Littlefield. The two regularly laid down intricate unison lines over the powerful rhythm section of bass, drums, keyboards and guitar.