LIVE: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe @ Alive at Five, 6/8/17
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
The name of saxmaster Karl Denson’s band, Tiny Universe, is a lot like nicknaming a thin guy “Fats.” There’s nothing “tiny” about the sonic universe that Denson and his compatriates explore, as they proved last week during the first Alive at Five concert of the 2017 summer season.
Back at Jennings Landing at Albany’s Corning Preserve after spending last summer in Tricentennial Park, the 2017 concert series kick-off was firmly rooted in deep-dish funk, but stretched out to explore a broad spectrum of variations from blues to hip-hop to jazz, from soul to rock and beyond.
Dancers were up and movin’ from the opening instrumental volley, and they shifted into high gear for the irresistible groove of “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo,” even when Denson whipped out his flute mid-song to mellow things down a bit.
Denson is a powerhouse sax player – you know the Rolling Stones ain’t gonna hire no slouch – but he was also generous in spreading around the spotlight on his bandmates – Richmond guitarist DJ Williams, Soulive drummer Zak Najor (subbing for Alan Evans), the Greyboy Allstars’ bassist Chris Stillwell, Crush Effects’ keyboardist David Veith, Seattle trumpeter Chris Littlefield and ace slide and lap steel guitarist Seth Freeman.
In fact, Freeman all but stole the show, not only with his truly incendiary lap steel playing on ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid” (the highlight of the show), but also when he stepped up to the microphone to handle the lead vocal chores on Denson’s homage to his “other” bandmates with a sly, slinky re-working of “Tumbling Dice.”
There was no shortage of additional highlights during the band’s 90-minute performance – including the hip-hop vibe of the new “I’m Your Biggest Fan” and the in-the-pocket funk jam of “So Real” – all of which left the crowd in an undeniably groove-alicious mood.
Saratoga Springs’ jam-band faves Let’s Be Leonard launched their one-long opening set with “Wandering,” which eased into a perfect summer-sunshine groove and got more interesting as the song evolved through a number of shifting time signatures. Other impressive selections included “Kindergarden Blues” and “How Do You Fall in Love.” Guitarist Karl Bertrand handled the bulk of the lead vocals, but it was saxman Connor Dunn who pushed the envelope, raising the band to another level.
Frankie Cavones’ photographs at NYS Music
Alive at Five continues at 5pm on Thursday with the Average White Band (with Greater Nippertown’s own Cliff Lyons on sax) and the Victory Soul Orchestra at Albany’s Jennings Landing. Admission is, of course, free. GO HERE for the complete schedule of the 2017 Alive at Five concerts…