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Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

Review 08/29/99 From: Mike Evans

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, featuring Fred Wesley The Zephyr Club, Salt Lake City, Utah, August 29, 1999 "Breakin' bread with my mama -- breakin' bread with my brother -- breakin' bread with my sister -- breakin' bread with my cousins... " Well, you get the idea... Fred Wesley was singing about love. He was deep into the last set, and pretty far in the song already when Karl Denson moved his own microphone over to where Fred was, so we could hear him singing out front. Funny thing though, we'd had NO trouble hearing Fred's trombone all night. Karl Denson's "Tiny Universe" band puts out a big ol' sound on its own. For the next ten days they, and their fans, are blessed with the good fortune to have Fred Wesley on stage with them. If you haven't heard about it yet, well, you're not alone, but you're hearin' about it now! This is a call to action for Uncle Jam's Army -- getcher booty outta mothballs and see them if you can! Let me tell you a little about Karl Denson and his group first. Chris Stillwell holds a steady groove on bass. Craig Dawson is a fast, high-endurance drummer who loves to work a funky downbeat into the mix. David Vieth fills stage left with his Hammond B3 Organ and Fender Rhodes piano. He throws down a syncopated solo now and then, but mostly whips up rich, malted milk textures. Brian Jordan seems to have endless possibilities at his fingertips for rhythm and lead guitar strokes. He's like a painter with sound, and has a rich pallette of colors with which to play. The horns, THE HORNS! Front and center, ladies and gentlemen, the horns! Carlos Washington plays trumpet, and usually pairs up with just a single sax or flute. He coaxes a full tone from his instrument, plus he's able to match speed with whatever reed or woodwind is next to him. Karl Denson is the man in the middle, taking it right to the audience on tenor sax, alto sax, or flute. Karl and Carlos sing well too, and if this reviewer could remember their chants and phrases, this would be a longer review! Those two guys moved a lot of air up front with their voices, and seamlessly cut to their horns. I guess they played jazz at first, but the dancing also started right away. It was just the Tiny Universe up on the stage for an instrumental tune or two. NOBODY stole Maceo's line about two percent jazz, in fact Karl Denson didn't say much at all until he introduced Fred Wesley. The music took on a whole new vibe. Fred's long, inventive, melody lines were a whirlpool of inspiration that spun the Zephyr around. Close to the vortex, Karl Denson kept singing and leading. Carlos Washington trumpeted on top of the harmonies, and took some of the finest solos of the night. That's saying something, because Fred and Karl were HOT. The beat was steadier, maybe slower, after Fred appeared. A sensual throb was present, that's for sure, no matter what the speed of the music was. The interplay of the horns was something magical. Karl went into overdrive, but Fred Wesley was already there. "David! Are you somebody?" Karl bellowed. "Damn right I'm somebody!" said David. Brian started plucking and stroking a Jimmy Nolen-styled lead/rhythm guitar figure, and Karl's Tiny Universe channeled the JB's from back in the Pre-Funk days. It didn't take them long to bring it up to NOW, and Fred was right with them. He's a master of brass. That's all there is to it. For over two hours, this ensemble poured inspiration off the stage onto the swimming dancers. Karl is a fabulous leader, with stamina to spare for the late hours. Fred was smiling too when his inspiration came looping back in the younger players' sounds and creations. This is where he belongs -- up front and out there, and that's where every lover of The Funk belongs -- wherever you can hear Fred Wesley perform! If you can't make it this time, don't sleep on the chance to see Karl Denson. You have my word that there's a party wherever HE'S playing. Looks like they'll be in Colorado next week, but I heard that they may have Chicago and environs on the agenda too.

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