Kark Denson's Tiny Universe | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Kark Denson's Tiny Universe


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The name of Karl Denson's new sextet has a cosmic ring--appropriately, since he sounds like he could easily stow away for a tour aboard George Clinton's Mothership. A full-throated tenor saxist and irresistible flutist, he has impeccable dance and funk credentials: after four years backing Lenny Kravitz, he joined trombonist Fred Wesley--picking up secondhand wisdom from Wesley's longtime employers, Clinton and James Brown--and then cofounded the Greyboy Allstars, a popular San Diego band that can move the stodgiest soul to shake something or other. Even when his playing is at its busiest, Denson maintains a steely cool; the calm precision with which he articulates his angular melody lines allows him to drop crisp accents into their bubbling rhythms. With the Greyboys, he's riffed behind a lead singer or punctuated the instrumentals with jazz-savvy, beat-driven solos--an updated version of the 60s Blue Note boogaloo style exemplified by tenor men like Junior Cook and the young Joe Henderson. In his own Tiny Universe, however, Denson wields even more power: he handles the lead vocals himself, in a slightly sweet tenor that's almost as inviting as his saxophone work. The band's self-released debut, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, takes a California approach--laid-back, slitheringly silky--to da funk, but it clocks in at less than 45 minutes, suggesting that the repertoire is still under development. Tunes like the instrumental "Ruff, Tuff & Tumble" and the vocal "Family Tree" should definitely improve onstage; I've seen Denson with the Greyboys, and that outfit's recordings all but pale next to its live shows. Tiny Universe's touring lineup preserves the album's instrumentation--electric and bass guitars, trumpet, keyboards, and drums, plus Denson's contributions--but aside from the leader, only keyboardist David Veith has made the transition. I trust Denson to have pulled together a road crew as slippery as his studio group, though, and he himself should be stoked for these gigs: he's just wrapped up the sessions for his next release, an all-star record that will include bassist Chris Wood, guitarist Melvin Sparks, and turntable artist DJ Logic. Friday and Saturday, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160.

Neil Tesser

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stephen Dorian Miner.

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