Photos by Craig Taraszki
I catch Karl Denson during some rare downtime spent at his San Diego home. The veteran road warrior gets to sleep in his own bed for a brief period before heading off for the final leg of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe’s current 2009 tour. The dates are in support of Brother’s Keeper, the group’s first full-length release in seven years. Although he has found that listeners are most receptive to a funk foundation incorporated into the material, Denson explores a more expansive sonic palette on Brother’s Keeper. The tracks present a nod to classic ’60 soul as well as reggae, while the lyrics present his most outspoken views yet of the need for a positive connection among earth’s inhabitants. Besides using musicians from 2002’s The Bridge, the album also offers guest appearances by Marc Ford and Meshell Ndegeochello.
While the discussion focuses on his current endeavor, it easily swings to his other bands – Greyboy Allstars and Karl Denson Trio – as well as his onetime bandleader Lenny Kravitz.
JPG: Let’s go straight to the obvious. The last thing you did was the Karl Denson Trio release. The last Tiny Universe album was The Bridge back in 2002. So, why a Tiny Universe album? Why not work under the moniker Karl Denson or something else?
KD: Well, Tiny Universe is definitely a certain thing. I like having all the different projects and them having their own identity. It’s a little confusing for retailers, but for the audience it’s a cool thing to be able to try and wrap their head around something a little more intricate than their normal fare.
JPG: When you say Tiny Universe is a certain type of thing, how would you describe it versus say Karl Denson Trio?
KD: Tiny Universe is a full-blown thing. It’s all the bells and whistles. You’ve got the horn section, lots of vocals, big instrumentation. Tiny Universe is my, it’s kind of the mother of everything.
JPG: I like that, the foundation of it all. Now, I see that you have Brian Jordan, Zak Najor and David Veith working on Brother’s Keeper. All three worked on the last full Tiny Universe album. You also have a number of guests appearing on the new album. So, who will you be bringing out on the road?
KD: I go back to the normal configuration for the tour. Tiny Universe is a six piece, two horns, bass, drums, guitar and keys.
JPG: When you’re playing with Greyboy Allstars it must be a different sensation, possibly even relaxing, because it’s not your band to lead. You can just kick back and play and not have to be responsible. How is it as a bandleader with Tiny Universe?
KD: You know what? It’s both rewarding and taxing. The ability to have it be completely my vision is really a blast and when we’re roaring through a set of music that was mostly my compositions, that’s really what I do it for. There’s also the idea of making everybody understand what I’m trying to get out of the music, what my vision is from the band standpoint, and knowing when to back off, when to just let the guys do what they do and accept it for what it is or when you need to put a little more pressure on ‘em to get what you want out of it. Then, however the ticket sales are, I deal with that up and down, too. You roll into a venue, if you see a hundred people or three hundred people you know what the night looks like.
JPG: As far as the lineup itself, are Brian, Zak and David involved in the touring?
KD: Not Zak. Zak’s actually kind of semi-retired. He’s the greatest drummer on earth and can’t figure out what he should do with it, and I pull him out of retirement every couple years to make a record with me.
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