Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Karl Denson's Tiny Universe at Levitt Pavilion

Geoff Anderson By

Sign in to view read count
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Levitt Pavilion
Denver, CO
August 26, 2017

You don't hear much talk of "The Energy Crisis" anymore. That's because Karl Denson's Tiny Universe has been on the scene, lighting things up and generating gigawatts of energy with its frequent funk fusillades. Over the course of their two hour set Saturday night, the Tiny Universe brought the funk, brought the energy and brought the fun.

The Tiny Universe is all about the funk. Theirs is a sound similar to the Crusaders which was a band that seamlessly merged the worlds of funk and jazz. The Tiny Universe tends to have a bit harder edge, however; a touch more intensity; maybe a little more rock. The rhythm section is obviously key for this type of music and the funk foundation Saturday night was provided by Alan Evans of Soulive on the drums and Chris Stillwell on the bass who, like Denson, is also a member of the Greyboy Allstars. Evans' syncopated snare shots and cymbal smashes supported the perpetual grooves. Stillwell's generally stoic stature belied the dance-inducing bass lines he continually pounded out.

Denson's woodwinds and Chris Littlefield's trumpet gave the Tiny Universe its most obvious jazz anchor. Denson tripled on tenor, alto and flute as well as vocals and emcee duties. Like the Crusaders with Wayne Henderson's trombone and Wilton Felder's sax, Denson and Littlefield frequently played unison horn lines over the feverish funk foundation. Denson's main axe is the tenor with occasional turns on the flute. He only played alto a couple times, but when he did the parallels with another funk forefather, Maceo Parker became all the more clear. While Parker's lines tend to be short staccato shots, Denson tends to explore longer, more intricate lines.

The Tiny Universe currently features two guitarists, DJ Williams and Seth Freeman. They provided plenty of foundational fortification with scratchy rhythms augmenting the bass and drums. Each had ample opportunities for soloing and displaying their individual voices. Freeman tended toward more of a rock sound while Williams had more of a jazz influence. Those are just generalizations because while the Tiny Universe may be tiny, it's versatile. Williams' solo on the band's original, "So Real" sounded a bit like Dickie Betts on the Allman Brothers Band's "Blue Sky." Other times, Williams simply settled for forking forth further fistfuls of funk.

The Tiny Universe was adept at creating climaxes, particularly with guitar solos. Often, one of the guitarists would begin with a slow simmer, gradually rise to a subtle boil and by the time he reached criticality, the horns were dancing on top with short, sharp unison lines. The guitarists had some unison, harmony lines of their own worked out. And, in the something-you-don't-hear-everyday department, Freeman threw in several slide guitar solos over the fortified funk. David Veith held down the keyboard chair adding several Hammond B-3 solos as well as consistent growling chords.

Besides leading the Tiny Universe and playing with the Greyboy Allstars, Denson, in his spare time, is also a Rolling Stone. He explained that he was leaving for Europe the day after the concert to join the Stones on their European tour. Their long-time sax man, Bobby Keys, passed away in 2014. He had famously played the saxophone solo on "Brown Sugar" as well as "Can't You Hear Me Knockin,'" both from Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones Records, 1971) and toured with the band the last few years of his life. Saturday night, Denson promised not to forsake the Tiny Universe and committed to getting the band back together in November. Denson has played with the Stones on tour in recent years.

Denson's Stones status inspired a couple covers Saturday night, "Tumblin' Dice" and "Between the Sheets." "Tumblin' Dice" was a bit of a let-down at first following all the high powered funk that had preceded it, but it strengthened as it progressed, helped by a Denson flute solo and Littlefield's trumpet playing.

The set list included several band originals, "Satisfied," "Because of Her Beauty," "Dance Lesson #2," "My Baby Likes to Boogaloo" and the new tune, "I'm Your Biggest Fan." The non-Stones covers were an interesting mix. "Just Got Paid" is a vintage Z.Z. Top song from their second album Rio Grande Mud (London 1972). That blues-rock tune benefited greatly from the 133% increase in the size of the band (trio versus septet). That one featured Freeman on lap steel guitar. Donavan's "Sunshine Superman," performed as an instrumental, was an extended solo vehicle and adding the funk to the hippie vibe improved the original nicely.


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC Winter Jazzfest Live Reviews Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 15, 2018
Read Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano Live Reviews Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano
by Keith Henry Brown
Published: January 13, 2018
Read Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café Live Reviews Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 2, 2018
Read Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook Live Reviews Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook
by Troy Dostert
Published: December 29, 2017
Read Gary Peacock Trio at the Regattabar Jazz Club Live Reviews Gary Peacock Trio at the Regattabar Jazz Club
by Nat Seelen
Published: December 27, 2017
Read "David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at Birdland" Live Reviews David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at...
by Tyran Grillo
Published: November 25, 2017
Read "The Specials at Higher Ground" Live Reviews The Specials at Higher Ground
by Doug Collette
Published: July 2, 2017
Read "Alfa Jazz Fest 2017" Live Reviews Alfa Jazz Fest 2017
by Thomas Conrad
Published: July 11, 2017
Read "Balé Folclórico de Bahia at Zellerbach Hall" Live Reviews Balé Folclórico de Bahia at Zellerbach Hall
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: March 19, 2017