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[whitespace] Dance Revolutionary

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe brings a party groove to jazz and soul

By Steven Raphael

HERE'S A GUY who's been up for the down stroke since day one. Throughout his career, musician Karl Denson has worked to bring jazz to a generation raised on hip-hop and dance music. Along with artists like Charlie Hunter and Medeski, Martin and Wood, Denson's Greyboy Allstars helped to usher in a new era of jazz and, in the process, attracted a devoted grassroots following.

What set these groups apart was their ability to play jazz that captured the fun party spirit yearned for by fans, and of all the groups, the Allstars were the most focused on throwing a dance party. Initially formed as a live band for DJ Greyboy's songs, they never strayed far from their roots: boogaloo-based acid jazz. The constantly upbeat, funky grooves helped Denson to develop a powerful sax style--part rock, part funk, part jazz and all soul.

With his current group, Tiny Universe, Denson takes these same themes in a slightly different direction. In 1999 Denson told me the group was "a soul band. We're doing a lot of vocals, a little bit more R&B [than the Greyboy Allstars], a little bit more jazz, and trying to keep it dancey."

In addition to Denson on vocals, sax and flute, Tiny Universe features trumpet player Carlos Washington, whose presence opens up a whole new world for Denson. While the guitar, organ, bass and drum rhythm-section hits a repeating groove, Denson and Washington harmonize, exploring dissonant realms that almost feel out of place. At other times, the trumpet helps to add a Latin flair to the smooth, R&B grooves. Denson is a strong performer, and his shows tend to be happening scenes. The band doesn't slow down much and neither does the audience, as they dance the night away.

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe performs at the SoFA Street Festival on Sunday, Sept. 17, at 2:30pm, on the San Carlos Stage. Following the festival, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe also performs at Fuel, 44 Almaden Ave, San Jose; 10pm; $10. (408.295.7374)

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From the September 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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