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Concert Review: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe – Observatory, Santa Ana, CA – 3/12/14

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After an opening set of funky Afro/Latin rhythms from Los Angeles-based Jungle Fire, Santa Ana-native Karl Denson had a sort of homecoming as his Tiny Universe sextet played to a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Observatory while promoting their latest release New Ammo.  The band, comprised of Denson (vocals, sax, flute); Chris Littlefield (trumpet); DJ Williams (guitar); David Veith (organ, Fender Rhodes); Max MacVeety (drums); and Chris Stillwell (bass), blended jazz, funk, soul, and rock in an impressive set that ran nearly two hours

“The Hen” got things cooking.  The horns punctuated the ends of choruses while Williams delivered some great guitar licks.  While the title track has “New” in the title, the song had a classic feel as some of the catchy riffs brought to mind TV Themes from the ’70s while MacVeety and Veith each were given time to shine.  Created from a new guitar riff he wrote, “My Baby” finds Denson singing for the first time this evening.  A good singer but when he blew his horns towards the end it was clear where his greatness lies.  The funky “Millvale, PA” reveals the same thing.  After Williams guitar made his sing, Denson wailed for a bit.

“How Fine Is That” was damn fine and had familiar.  They played tight throughout and then everyone seeing to play their own tune as the song closed out.  Denson even played cowbell in the middle.  He picked up the flute for “Ashley’s Roach Clip,” a song with a softer sound until Williams took the lead.  He brought to mind Tom Morello as he mimicked the sound of scratching a record.  It’s no surprise “The Duel” brings to mind movies from the 1960s with its surf guitar licks and swinging spy feel because it comes from Lenny Stack’s score for the 1970 biker flick C.C. and Company.  Most impressive is how long and steady the rhythm section plays.

From the first few notes on the flute, the crowd is ecstatic because they know The Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot” is on the way, yet the band makes it their own during the verses as Denson stretches out.  Towards the end, Williams brings back the scratching.  After Denson declared it was “Voodoo Time,” he sang Don Gardner’s “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo” and the band cast a spell over the crowd compelling them to dance.  They ended the main set with Denson leading an instrumental version of The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” on flute.  They came out for a brief encore and played a participatory song called “The Clap.”

Amazon They are a talented bunch of musicians sure to get your head boppin’ and your body movin’. If they come to your town and you are looking for a good time filled with music not limited by genres, I very much recommend seeing them.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS