Today many people know Karl Denson as the touring saxophonist with the Rolling Stones, but my principal experience with him is a blend of his work with Greyboy Allstars and Tiny Universe along with his seminal performance in the fictional band Sexual Chocolate (Look it up…you’re welcome!) Karl Denson is a woodwind ripper from way back and the most impressive part of his career is that he’s never let any of his projects slip. Greyboy and KDTU are both still touring and playing the festival circuit while he maintains the rest of his prolific career as a hired gun and studio musician. In short the guy crushes and his show at Washington’s was another shining example of how far this man has come in the world of live music.
The night began with local DJ legend Mikey Thunder. His set was a blend of buttery beats and nostalgia-inducing samples from the likes of James Brown and The O’Jays. It’s not easy being a DJ but Mr. Thunder made it look like a breeze as he demonstrated his prowess with a needle. Notable tracks like Con Funk Shun’s “Confunkshunizeya” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” After a shout-out to local platform and record presser Color Red Music he closed his set, then briefly returned for some extra beats and scratches.
Karl Denson has a lot going on these days. Not the least of which is learning a bunch of David Bowie and James Brown music for some upcoming shows, releasing a new album, Gnomes and Badgers and turning 65 years young. The guy never stops and his personal project for the last 24 years or so has been The Tiny Universe. They took the stage for an extended set around 9 PM and got busy with a bunch of new tracks including “Gossip” and “Time to Pray.” “Freedom” is classic Karl with 70’s throwback funk riffs and a bombastic blast from the horn section. Next, they took on the bouncy flute tune “Check Out Your Mind” which as the title insinuates is a space-funk track with Karl returning to the mic to sing. We were treated to a rocking version of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” with the tenor sax taking on the vocal duties. The band closed the set with a stellar “Can We Trade” before they returned for the encore with the Osibisa’s “Music For Gong Gong”
The versatility of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is simply mesmerizing. Whether they are playing originals, Stones’ tunes, or Ghanaian-English Afro rock covers they are crushing the game. As most people would be getting ready to retire Denson continues to push musical boundaries and tour prodigiously. Karl and company will undoubtedly be coming to a town near you so get your Stones or Lenny Kravitz or Greyboy or KDTU tickets and go see this man blow the roof off the place.