Garrett Harris 6 a.m., Sept. 16
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Sound description: Boogaloo funk 'n' soul.
RIYL: Greyboy All Stars, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Bobby Keyes, Raphael Ravenscroft
- "Karl Denson's Surreal Universe" · March 29, 2015
- Of Note: "It's His Universe" · Dec. 23, 2008
Inception: San Diego, 1998
Influences: Wynton Marsalis. Frank Zappa, DJ Greyboy, Ozomatli, B-Side Players
Saxophonist Karl Denson bridges fusion jazz and R&B soul with progressive freak rock like the music of Frank Zappa. He played sax with Lenny Kravitz's band, and he and DJ Greyboy came to local prominence with the Greyboy All Stars, formed in 1997.
His band Karl Denson's Tiny Universe sometimes performs and records as a sextet and sometimes as a trio. Onstage, Denson often doesn’t stray too far from the James Brown and George Clinton templates, but his records are a different story.
Denson usually records with a different lineup than the one he tours with, and each of his releases explores a different kind of collaboration. Sometimes he works in an organic, jazz-oriented vein (he records for the historic jazz label Blue Note), sometimes he goes for a more electronic sound, and sometimes he works with a turntablist or includes other hip-hop elements. Sometimes the records have vocals and sometimes they don’t.
Funk is the language Denson speaks, but he has lots of things to say. Denson's manager Jody White is the son of singer/songwriter Tony Joe White.
In 2008, the Karl Denson Trio won Best Jazz Album at the San Diego Music Awards, for their record
Lunar Orbit. Their 2009 album Brother’s Keeper (Shanachie Records) includes songwriting and vocals by Jon Foreman of Switchfoot.
Guitarist DJ Williams (DJ Williams Projekt) joined the group in summer 2011, as the band launched its off-and-on Sticky Fingers tribute tour, playing the entire Rolling Stones album followed by a second set of their own tunes. Williams also fronts a solo super group project, DJ Williams & Shots Fired.
While recording a new Tiny Universe full-length tentatively titled Cheerleader in early 2012, Denson was also recording and performing with the reunited Greyboy Allstars, as well as with fellow locals Slightly Stoopid.
A side project, the Tiny Finger Sticky Fingers tribute tour (playing the entire Rolling Stones album) ran through summer 2012, with New Orleans-based slide guitarist Anders Osborne opening with his blues-rock trio and joining Tiny Universe for the entire Stones set.
The Stones gig (coupled with a recommendation from Lenny Kravitz, for whom Denson has played) later resulted in Denson touring with the actual Rolling Stones. In Autumn 2014, he cancelled a few of his own band's shows (including an October 24 date at the North Park Theatre), in order to play with the Rolling Stones' backing band in Australia and New Zealand, beginning October 25. Early the following year, Ron Wood told Radio.com that the Rolling Stones would launch a North American tour in summer 2015, with Denson replacing their sax player Bobby Keys, who died the previous December.