Across the Universe
Q& A with Karl Denson
By Jim Caligiuri, 3:47PM, Wed. Feb. 10, 2010
Friday night, Austinís FunkyBatz and other assorted creatures take over La Zona Rosa to groove with local openers the Greyhounds and California-based funk merchants Karl Densonís Tiny Universe. You may know Denson as a member of Lenny Kravitzís band; thatís his sax solo on ďLet Love Rule.Ē
Since leaving Kravitz in 1992, Denson has emerged with several different projects. Besides his Tiny Universe, he was a founder of acid-jazz standard bearers the Greyboy Allstars, while also fronting the classical-jazz-based Karl Denson Trio.
The saxophonist/flutist issued latest Brotherís Keeper in late 2009 under the KDTU moniker, the group's first since 2004. Itís an eclectic mix of styles, from gritty 1960s soul to hard 1970s funk to reggae to Afrobeat. I talked recently with the soft-spoken, thoughtful Denson from his home in San Diego about the new discís message and musical range, and couldnít help but ask about the recent revival of Sexual Chocolate.
Geezerville: In the liner notes to Brotherís Keeper, you urge people to make a conscious effort to reconnect with the people around them, summing it up with, ďLove your neighbor as yourself.Ē Was there something in particular that happened to bring you to that?
Karl Denson: Not really. Itís just my general philosophy that led to that. Iím trying to live by the golden rule and you see the world getting so busy and disconnected. So it was just the nature of the way things are going in the world led me to write that.
G: You wrote the music for the title track in seven or eight minutes, but it took a lot longer to write the lyrics. Why was that?
KD: Iím not Bob Dylan, so for me writing lyrics have always been the challenge. Starting out as a jazz musician, itís always been about writing music. But writing lyrics, thatís been the challenge of the last ten years. Iím still paying my dues to the lyric gods.
G: One of the things I find interesting on the new record is range of styles. There arenít many bands today that can accomplish that level of versatility successfully.
KD: I have always been an eclectic artist. I think I was trying to control it as much as I could. I wanted to try and make it say one thing inside all those styles. Thatís really been the whole concept of the Tiny Universe. We used to call the band the Tiny University because there was so much music. It wasnít like the guys would come in and it was, "All right weíre going to play funk or we we're going to play boogaloo or we we're going to play jazz." Itís kind of my whole musical outlook over the last 30 years.
G: Some friends came back from the recent Jam Cruise raving about the appearance of Sexual Chocolate, the fictional band you led in the 1988 movie Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy. Is that something you plan to revive again?
KD: (laughs) That was a complete one-off. Sexual Chocolate is good from its ridiculous standpoint. I donít know if I could make that fresh every day.