Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was one of the hottest tickets at Jazz Fest this
selling out three of his five shows in New Orleans.
My journey into this Tiny Universe began at the Howlin' Wolf on Friday
evening with Mike Clark’s Prescription Renewal featuring Robert
Walters (Greyboy Allstars, 20th Congress) on keyboards, Mike Clark (Herbie
Hancock, Head Hunters) on drums, George Porter (Meters) on bass, Karl
Denson (Greyboy Allstars, KDTU) on sax, Brian Jordan (KDTU) guitar.
The set began with a great groove that allowed each artist to showcase his
talents. The entire band allowed each other to take several solos during
the first set, and with their talents showcased, George Porter began to sing
the classic "Waiting For My Ya Ya". The band was all smiles as they looked
into the dancing crowd that was singing the lyrics to the song.
The highlight of the five song first set was the solos each member took. To see
these five funk masters laying it down on the stage was simply amazing.
The second set began with a great version "Get Out My Life", that
segue into another jam before the band laid down this heavy Blues number.
Second set found Brian Jordan missing from guitar, but this great Blues
guitarist from Chicago was lending his guitar and vocal talents. After a few
more bars of the blues the band went into "Chameleon." A familiar tune to
most of the crowd, everyone was shakin' as the Howlin' Wolf had become
packed with Funky Music lovers. The show billed as the Funk Summit was no
let down. I could have listened to these guys play all night long. Though
they all play in different bands, it seemed as if these guys had played
together for a lifetime. The styles, the solos, the energy, it was all
there. Wanting decent seats at the House of Blues, we slipped out early to
make the KDTU show that was to follow.
Filling the House of Blues to capacity, we were packed in like sardines.
Once the band took the stage, it didn't matter as this sea of people was
grooving to the funky beat. KDTU started the night off with "Make It A
Cosmopolitan" followed by "The Bridge". The new tune "Walt's First Trip," a
horn driven funk jam, was next on the list followed by a funk rendition of
Jimmy Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" that had the crowd screaming for
more. Karl's sax turned into Jimmy's guitar and I swear I saw sparks coming
from that brass. Brian Jordan's fingers running up and down the fret of his
guitar was filling the air with Hendrix's sounds.
Once the crowd came to their senses, "Satsified," a funky dance tune that
in my opinion could get some good radio play, was played followed by "Inner
Crisis." This song featured the raw talents of sax man Andy Cleaves who
traded licks with Karl himself. Out of Inner Crisis, Karl took a mean flute
solo that segued into "Fallin'," also known as the Bar-B-Q song. Always
dedicated to the ladies, the crowd was shaking the balcony at the House of
Blues. "Fallin'" had a nice saxophone solo that continued into the New
Orleans classic "When The Saints Come Marching In" with Ari from Cabaret
Diosa on Baritone Sax. This added some nice NOLA flava to the Funk sounds
of the Tiny Universe. "Fallin’" was followed by another jam before the band
went off the stage to take a much needed break.
Second set began with a BANG as the stage was filled with HOT SAX.
Hope C. from Deep Banana Blackout, Cochemea Gastelum from Robert Walters
20th Congress, KC Benjamin from Project Logic, Ari from Cabaret Diosa, as
well as Karl Denson were on stage with sax in hand. Mike Clark had taken
over the drum kit, and Chuck Prada had replaced EJ Rodriguez on percussion.
The first song of the second set was "Seepage At The Fox". A song that was
written about a bathroom seepage problem at the Fox Theater that happened
during the recording of the KDTU shows. "Seepage At The Fox" starts out as
this free form acid jazz jam. It was amazing seeing these artist on stage
blowing their hearts out. Seepage segued into a jam that let every player
showcase talent. Most impressive to me were Ari from Cabaret Diosa
on that HUGE baritone sax and KC Benjamin from Project Logic. Mike Clark
was layin' the beat, and the funk was doing more than seeping from Eric's
drum kit, it was pouring out of the speakers, monitors and sound system. It
must have taken them days to clean up the mess. After this ALL-STAR SAX
jam, Karl brought to the stage two lovely looking ladies from the
Paulette's to sing back up vocals during "Can You Feel It." KC Benjamin
was playing the sax with Mike Clark still on drums. The Paulette's were
good, but never got a chance to shine. They held the backing vocals well,
but I really wanted to hear these girls sing lead vocals. The next song
featured was the new Karl Denson's album title track "Dance Lesson #2." DJ
Logic's turntable skills were featured during this song. Logic's fills
were perfect for the space left for him by Karl. Dance Lesson # 2 was
followed by "Who Are You?" This track is featured on the Blue Note CD
sampler as well as the Jazz Fest CD sampler, and it can also be found on the
new Karl Denson album. Logic again was featured along with the tight
stylings of Brian Jordan. "Who Are You?" was jammed out, bringing the crowd
into a frenzy right before the music stopped. At this time Karl introduced
Hope C., KC Benjamin, DJ Logic, Ari, and Johnny Durkin from Deep Banana
Blackout on percussion before taking the band and guest on a "Rump Winder"
journey. Again there were several sick sax exchanges, and an amazing Flute
solo by Hope C. She was doing this scat thing in between hitting notes on
the flute. I have seen this before, but Hope was on the money with this
exchange. She had all band members looking at each other on stage in
amazement. They all exchanged smiles as Hope added her own flava to this
funky sound. I like to think she helped to step up the next song with her
furious flute solo. Tar Baby was next to end the evening, but not before
Karl and KC exchanged sax licks that left my jaw on the floor. The crowd
was screaming for an encore in the House Of Rules, but the bright lights
were turned on blinding the crowd as they pushed us out the door. When the
evening was over, I was glad to have tickets for the next night’s show.
SATURDAY MAY 5th
Leaving the Galactic show early to drive to the Garden District, we still
waited in a long line on either side of Tipitina's entrance. This place was
packed for what was being billed as Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Friends.
With the start of the first set, I knew it was going to be a huge night. As
KDTU took to the stage, Lenny Kravitz emerged from the side with axe in
hand. The band jammed into "Who Are You?" and as the jam kept going, Karl
and Lenny started singing the Sly and the Family Stone line "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin." This jam lasted for some time with Lenny on
guitar and Karl tearin' it up on the sax. "Soul Drifter" followed with an
insane solo from Brian Jordan. At one time I thought Lenny would showcase
his guitar skills to the screaming crowd, but was happy to sit back and let
the rest of the band shine. Lenny never did take that mean solo, but opted
to play rhythm the entire evening. Next came the very popular "KDTU
Universal Mind Expansion." This song, featuring the crazy styling of David
Veith on keys, is slow BUT funky, and it allows for David to manipulate his
keys in such away that I felt I was being abducted by aliens, good aliens.
At the end of this song, Lenny un-hooked his axe and got behind Eric
Bolivar’s drum kit for an improv funk jam. Lenny was keepin' the funky beat
while the rest of the band jammed out before the end of this set.
Upon the return of the band, Lenny came out again with his guitar. The
second set started with the Afro-beat song dedicated to Femi Kuti, "Elephants
Are Big As Hell."
This is one of my favorite Karl songs right now with its fast, heavy
Afro-funk beat. Karl and Andy's horn work was tight and in unison. Lenny
was playing rhythm while Brian was toying with the crowd. It was during the
jam in this song that Karl and Lenny had the crowd chanting "I am everyday
people." I don't know if it was a Sly b-day or anniversary, but the theme
was evident. Shortly after coming out of this jam, Lenny dropped his axe to
again get behind the drum kit to play "Chi-town Break Down" (a.k.a. "Chicago
Breakdown"). Brian took a furious solo before letting Karl take control.
"Check Your Mind" was next with Ron Johnson's EVIL bass line. Having heard
this song played by several bands, I like that KDTU has taken this song and
added their own style. When you first hear them play this song, you have no
idea they are covering "Check Your Mind." Karl rips into a huge flute solo
while Ron lays down the dirty, evil, funk bass line. Having seen the
Houseman cover this song with KDTU last Halloween, the arrangement was
completely different. Lenny was on guitar for "Check Your Mind," and the
next song, James Brown's "Big Pay Back." You couldn't move in Tipitina's as
bootys were moving everywhere. The floor was soaked in sweat as people
were dancing to the sounds of James Brown. With the sound of the horns, JB
is the perfect thing to end the set. The crowd went crazy for an encore.
Lenny came back, but seemed less than enthusiastic during the encore. It
was obvious he did not know the song as he sat down on his amp and tried to
get into the groove. Towards the end of the song he was rushed off stage, I
assume because of the girls who were going crazy in front and beside the
stage. Karl ended the night with his "Groove On" as he thanked everyone for
a great turn out at the fest. Karl's next gig was later that evening at the
Howling Wolf. After his show at the Wolf, he was seen hanging out at the
Soulive show that happened at the House of Blues Parish House. Part owner
Jim Belushi was also seen at this show.