There are certain artists, that when you say their name, you expect everyone in the vicinity to know that name. You expect them to register your statement with a big bright smile on their face in recognition of the greatness of said name that just escaped your lips. When I say Karl Denson, I immediately expect people to raise their heads, their glasses, and their hearts in salute to THE MAN who can manipulate a saxophone with the best of the best. Often times, this doesn’t happen! Many of the greatest artists on the scene are, for lack of a better word, hidden, for those of us willing to seek them out.
On the other hand, if I were to say Lenny Kravitz, everyone would know that name. He is plastered all over the radio and TV and I don’t ever turn those contraptions on. What is a radio again? But, saying Lenny Kravitz‘s name, it would register, even with the most uneducated of music lovers. What a lot of people do not know is that Karl Denson was in Lenny Kravitz‘s band years ago and where his fame grew. Now, not to knock him by any means, but I have and never will go to a Lenny Kravitz concert. Karl on the other hand…I will NEVER EVER EVER miss a Karl Denson show. This past weekend at the Brooklyn Bowl, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe brought THE HOUSE DOWN with funky goodness two nights in a row. I honestly, don’t know where to being…
I arrived at the venue with my friend. We thought we were running late but there was not even a line at the ID check and it was already past 9pm. OK? Again, my point being made that people don’t know good music when it come and hits them in the face. But no worries, the slow start gave us plenty of time to talk with friends, maneuver to the front and lay down our belongings, setting up for the rager that was about to take place. Standing around a little while longer, still nothing so we took a trip outside. While hanging out in the fresh air, a taxi pulls up and chills by the stage door. My friend and I continue our conversation and see Pete Shapiro, owner of the Brooklyn Bowl and in my opinion, probably the luckiest man on earth, come out talking to a roadie. “I have to pay the taxi,” he says, as Karl Denson steps out of the taxi and into view. “Hi Karl,” I say, “JAM CRUUUUISE!” He turns and smiles 🙂 My friend and I quickly turn away to make our way inside because NOW the show can commence!
I am at the Brooklyn Bowl so often, it seems funny to have to describe it in every review. All I am going to say this time is that it is the coolest venue in all of New York City. Hands down. Period. End of story. Get your fannys there as soon as you can. Members of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe took the stage sometime between 10:10pm and 10:30pm. OK, right up front, I am telling you this is a long review, even for my standards…the show was three hours of straight raging funk from one of my favorite artists…it’s a doozie and worth the read! 🙂 The stage was set up as follows, from left to right:
David Veith (keyboards)
Chris Littlefield (trumpet)
John Staten (drums)
Karl Denson (saxophone/flute)
Chris Stillwell (bass)
Brian Jordan (guitar)
Oh man, what a line up. Karl has put together a talented group of musicians who all deserve to be fronting their own bands. I just truly love every single player in this group and I don’t say that often. Karl came out in a jacket and slacks, Brian Jordan began strumming his guitar, Karl picked up the microphone and immediately blasted into Sister Jane. And at that point there was “nothing going on but a FUNKY SONG!!” Good lord! He just slammed right into it. The horns went at it. He beckoned us to warm up our pipes and join the song. There was shouts into the audience and we returned them. “Ahh, Yaa, Yeah, Yoooo!!” Karl fiercely laced into his saxophone, screaming at us with that blessed thing then throwing it down to pick up the tambourine. First song into the night and I almost broke into tears!
Disclaimer: If you truly read my blog, it becomes VERY CLEAR I am 11o% OBSESSED with Jam Cruise right off the bat! Karl Denson is one of the few artists to have been blessed to be on all 8 of the cruises, in the various projects he works with. He sounds threw me right back on to the boat and I got choked up for the first time of many that weekend. I wish I could pass this happiness around in a bottle for yall to drink from. I really do. It would be priceless but I wouldn’t charge yall anyway 🙂
Karl adjusts his jacket as they move into Funky Song! The horns blast off and the guitar picks it up. A much more musically, specifically horn, driven song then the lyrically charged songs that would follow throughout the night. These are my favorite. Just blow those horns. There is some banter with the audience on Karl’s part. Chris Littlefield gave us a hot trumpet solo and they move along into Family Tree. Karl and Chris plugged their left ears as they sang their harmonies over each other. Brian Jordan raged his guitar for this song and then it was David Veith showing us what he can do with his nimble fingers. For the first time, Karl places a contraption over his mouth piece, there is feedback before we hear this lovely sound coming from his horn. How does one describe the sound…a funky deep muffled sound. Karl picked up the flute and sang “just like the leaves of the family tree!!” The song dipped into fingers into some nasty feisty jazz and Karl showed us his talents through the horn, ending with the screaming blast of Littlefield’s trumpet.
Time for some interaction with the crowd. Karl screams, “Happy spring! The flowers are blooming. I got my 1st artichoke the other day.” He continued to talk about how he had left the plant in the ground after he thought he had killed it the previous season. “Good thing I did, cause I got this artichoke!” Right into The Clap, Jordan’s guitar beckoned us to dance with some help from the drums. Karl joined in and then it was all about the “Soul Clap, Soul Clap,” as the venue joined together in unison, clapping, smiling, dancing. All the while, Brian’s guitar gave us the prettiest melody amongst the horns sporadic honking.
With a menacing, funky assault from the horns, Grenadiers followed. Karl Denson just brought his raging funky talent to the forefront for this solo. It was the grandest of the first set for sure. The kind of solo that just stops you dead in your dancing tracks with your mouth hanging open. SO MUCH TALENT! Karl’s yummy muscles were bulging out of his as he brought it back to the dark, deep bassy on a tin can. At this point, I am dancing around in the front row, trying to maintain my composure to take notes, and this guy gets all close to me. Then a little closer. And finally sticks his face in the side of my head and bolts away. I turned around, confused. “OMG!!,” he says. “We thought your earrings were really giant gauges in your ear. And we thought, HOLY SHIT! That is dedication!” Oh people, if you could only see the earrings he was talking about. And oh people, if you could understand how funny I would look with gauged ears that big. Sorry, but its disgusting, eww! I can see why they were so intent on figuring it out or not! Karl ended the song beating on a tin can and I was left smiling from another fun show interaction.
Can You Feel It was led in by some lovely humming, the “oohs” and “ahhs.” Karl on the sax and the keys sounded like a flute. I felt like the keys sound like the flute a lot of the time throughout the weekend. Karl, with sweat dripping off his brow, gave us a jazz infused solo as Littlefield shook the shaker. His eyes popped open with the blasts of the horn and he was bouncing all over. The sound changed drastically with the bass leading the way. Chris Stillwell is a monster, a technical genius. My friend would later say:
“Stillwell is the consummate professional. As well as he is known, he’s still underrated. I don’t think there is a band or style of music he couldn’t fill in with on five minutes notice if needed.”
I agree 110%, I just wish I could have heard the bass a little louder for the position I was dancing in. Karl breaks out the cheese grater with scratcher?? Haha. They just had an arsenal of side toys to play with and make sounds, Karl almost always changing up the beat of his respective instrument throughout each measure. And whenever they were done with their items, be it a water bottle or percussion instrument, they would throw it to the ground before picking up their horns! “Everybody on the street wants to make the night complete.” I was wanting more horns. I look over and see my beautiful friend in the crowd. She was new to Karl Denson as of that night and with her eyes closed, she was swaying and smiling. I smiled wide as I knew she was soaking it all in. I imagined what she must be feeling in the moment. Hearing new music, especially new AMAZING music that you end up LOVING, is just the greatest swelling of a feeling. It’s the establishment of a whole new relationship in your life. For me, it’s religious. “Let’s sing a little bit! It’s good for your soul,” shout’s Karl. The crowd’s response was weak. Karl places his hands behind his ears and the crowd peeks! “Very nicely done NYC!” he says and that was the end of that.
Easily one of my top 10 favorite Karl song’s, Shake It Out makes you feel like you are straight up in church about to fall into the isle shaking like a crazy person. There is not a lot of horn play during this song. Littlefield with the tambourine and Karl with the shaker, they started to dance together and pretty soon, in unison, they danced out a funky little beat together across the stage. The crowd loved it! Brian raged through at the forefront of the song. John Staten gave us a short but sweet drummer’s rage to close it out.
After this song, all my notes and memories get jumbled cause I had just danced all the blood out of my brain to my legs to try to keep up. I think the last song of the set played was Brother’s Keeper, from their new CD “Brother’s Keeper.” Very little horn action and lots of lyrics in the beginning, somewhat making me long for Grey Boy Allstars…overall less lyrics. But Karl did grab the flute for this one which is always beautiful. John Staten gave us another MASSIVE drummer solo while Brian and the David laid out the background rhythm. There was another slight unison dance between Karl and Littlefield. Karl fitted the sound modifier over his mouth piece and closed out the set screaming his sax/guitar at the tops of its….lungs? I swelled up for the second time that night. And now it was time for some fresh air with friends to discuss 🙂
- Sister Jane
- Funky Song
- Family Tree
- The Clap
- Can You Feel It
- Shake It Out
This was a great night of music, but I also meet some great music lovin fools who I feel will become wonderful additions to my life. Tiny Universe took the stage for the second set and it was a full steam ahead blast of energy. I am a little fuzzy at this point because I had to make my way through everyone and make a few pit stops before getting back to the stage. I heard Oranges playing and knew I was missing the beginning. Bad Karen! But fun adventures are half the fun of live shows 🙂 As I made my way through the crowd, I realized that the venue was a lot more empty then I thought it would be, but by GOD it was full of energy. People were raging. It was wonderful 🙂
With the shake of his tambourine, Soul Shifting & S&G would be the first song of the second set I would see. FUNK, FUNK, FUUUUNK. Say it with me now! A lovely guitar by Brian Jordan with jaaazzzy horns. I mean, the the Funk strings and drums clearly stood out, the Jazz horns clearly stood out yet they were so tight that it was just one insane song. So good! Emotional for the third time that night. The keys were holding it down throughout the funky beat. Brian Jordan moved his hands up the neck of his guitar to create his desired sound! Ahh! I can clearly hear the bass. It was definitely louder second set, perhaps it wasn’t my location after all. There was a beautiful moment between the drums and the flute. And odd lovely combination. They go to end the song in a blast. Not one, not two, but three. Karl changes instruments, and then Blast! Blast. Now he was done. Sometimes, it’s just impossible to end a song 🙂
Karl smiles and that trademark beard moves with his face. The keys light up the stage and to me, again, sound like a flute is being played. Slowly up the scale he ran his fingers and the horns jumped in at the top. Explosions would be next. This song is always so damn fierce. FIERCE. I started to pick the band apart, focusing on them individually. Littlefield pick up his water bottle and shakes it into the microphone, I tried desperately to hear it, but alas… it was a funky dance party at this point and they chose to slow it down. It got VERY low and VERY slow. A lot of drag on the notes with a stormy echo of the guitar. My notes say: “Trippy ass shit right here, man!” I was happy:) THEN FREAKING SMACK YOU IN YOUR FACE FANTASTIC RAGE!!! Chris SLAMMED his drums, the horns screamed, the strings raged and the keys sang as they brought some FUNKY jazz flying to our ears and people SCREAMED!!! Everyone was taken off guard!
Brian Jordan comes out and is on the synthesizer while Chris Stillwell moves to the guitar. I got so very happy because I was finally able to hear Stillwell in all his glory. Damn man. His face never changes, he sometimes looks half asleep…he makes it looks effortless. Karl talks about April 20th having just come and gone. It had been his 20th anniversary. MAJOR Happy Anniversary Karl!! It was time for some songs off the new album. Where It Counts brought some sick synthesizer funk!! I mean…come on! Just go get the cd, immediately. Chris Stillwell was SHINING!! This song had a rock infused vibe to it. “Sometimes you have to act like a fool!” sings Karl. Karl starts talking about Bruce Lee and Coltrane and I lose track of what is going on. Just out of my mind with energy. The bass of the synth was so intense that I could hardly dance. It shook my legs so severely I just stood there and let the music quite literally massage me. Karl announced that they were recording that night. The venue screamed in unison.
Cosmopolitan was next. I think. They didn’t go by their set list and these songs were new. Karl and Chris funked their horns in unison for a while. I mean what can I say. It was just rage after rage after rage after rage and I didn’t want to think anymore. I didn’t want to take notes any more. I didn’t want to worry about set lists or anything. I just wanted to dance. Down went the pen, down went the camera and a few feet away from me down went someone’s beer…and they just left it. It made it’s way all the way to me before I finally went and got some napkins to get the mess that was making its way to the speakers and wires the entire time. Frustrated, I let the music sweep over me and bring me back to my happy place. The flute came in and out, the horns blasted….it was just one thing after another and it was so intense and full of funky energy. I think there was a song called Soul Satisfied in there? There is just something about FUNK energy, am I right? Different music has different energies for sure! MMMMM, JAZZY FUNK!!!
We left the venue sweating ourt butts off. We made it a few blocks away before crashing in our spot to recover. For another 40 minutes we contemplated not moving from that spot and just waiting for the doors to open for the following nights performance. It was that good. We were that addicted. Thank you Karl, Happy Anniversary and see ya again tomorrow 🙂
- Soul Driftin
- Where It Counts
- Apparently or Soul Satisfied? (unsure)