Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

By Benson Knickerbocker

It seems that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is not only about local music but it is increasingly becoming a showcase for "visiting teams". One group that is making a home out of New Orleans during April and May is Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Saxophonist Karl Denson will be familiar to most people through his playing with the Greyboy All-Stars. The true fate of this San Diego band is anybody’s guess. By official standards, they may be broken up but their spirit definitely lives on through groups such as Robert Walter’s 20th Congress and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. In both groups, the funk-jazz of the 1970s is carried on with incredible boogaloo vigor. What once was considered a "sidecar project" to the Greyboy Allstars, Denson’s Tiny Universe has now grown into a full time affair. The band has already spent the last few years playing nightclubs and festivals in several different incarnations. In comparison to the Greyboy Allstars, the Tiny Universe has much more raw funk sound. Denson is joined by fellow Greyboy alumnus, bassist Chris Stillwell as well as Carlos Washington (trumpet), David Veith (Fender Rhodes/Hammond B-3), Joey Carano (Guitar), and Alan Evans (drums) (Their touring version is minus Stillwell and Evans).

The most welcome addition to the Denson sound would have to be trumpeter Washington who easily adds a Latin touch to many of the tunes (especially "…Reminded of Sunshine" and the appropriately titled "Latin Snap"). Carano, who comes from the wah-wah "Shaft" school of thought, maintains the funkiest of rhythm sections while Alan Evans, who is the man behind the kit for New England’s own Soulive, has plenty of experience that makes him one the most versatile drummers around. With his dual approach of electric piano and Hammond B-3, Veith has all the sounds and textures covered.

As for Denson, his melodic saxophone and flute solos and sense of percussion continually blow minds. On stage, he is one of the finest musicians to watch as he puts every morsel of his energy into a show. Another big standout on this album is the presence of vocal tracks such as ""Family Tree" and "Can You Feel It". Both tracks could easily have been on the Car Wash soundtrack. The opening track, the lost in the 1970s loose funk of "Ruff, Tuff & Tumble", may be the closest thing to a Greyboy Allstars studio track as is features Stillwell and Denson as well as Greyboy guitarist Elgin Park and electric pianist Robert Walter. In the liner notes, Denson pays tribute to great funksters Hammond B-3 organist Rueben Wilson and saxophonist Maceo Parker – two people who contributed tremendously to the development of funk. Wilson successfully bridged funk and jazz while Parker got people to dance and put the emphasis on creating an enjoyable show. Tiny Universe does both of these.