Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe favoring blistering rock over jazz

Karl-Denison3Photos by Marc Fong // Written by Kevin Quandt

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe with Quinn Deveaux and the Blue Beat Review //
The Independent – San Francisco
March 14th, 2014 //

A “funkified” evening of soul, jazz and rock was the prize for fans at The Independent last Friday as Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe helmed a superb bill along with local soulman Quinn Deveaux and the Blue Beat Review. Even though these artists generally play SF somewhat regularly, it’s the consistency of these bands that keep fans returning time and time again.

Deveaux opened the evening with a soul-leaning set as the charismatic frontman played to an enthusiastic, early-evening crowd. Among a bevy of strong original songs was a revelrous rendition of The Meters’ “They All Ask’d for You”, which bumped the energy up a little more as folks settled into the weekend.


Denson is a modern, funky jazz legend, having been a sideman to some massive artists before breaking out on his own to form The Greyboy Allstars and KTDU more than a decade ago. The rotating membership of KTDU lends itself to a slightly different band and sound every couple of years.

The band’s current formation leans toward the rock end of the spectrum as compared to the jazz-odyssey style of past KTDU lineups. Guitarist DJ Williams is the likely culprit in creating this harder-edged sound that we currently hear from Denson and company. The group’s usual suspects, such as Chris Stillwell on bass and Chris Littlefield on trumpet, are still present on stage, so don’t fret.


Tracks from Denson’s latest release New Ammo were plentiful as “My Baby” was performed early in the set, featuring Williams playing a swamp-funk slide guitar that mixed nicely into the many styles represented onstage throughout the night. “Everybody Knows That” was another highlight off the Stoopid Records release.

Though Denson started his career backing Lenny Kravitz, mainly keeping to his instruments, he truly is a dynamic leader as he effortlessly jumps between sax, flute, cowbell and vocals. The dance party arrived in the form of the classic KDTU track “Hey Sister”, which traditionally launches the crowd into euphoria as the mix of tempos truly keeps the participants on their toes. A tease of The White Stripes’ modern classic “Seven Nation Army” led to a full cover of this crowd-pleaser, which happens to be featured on the new album. As the evening came to a close after a strong encore, the devoted fans who stayed until the last note left filled to the brim with all that funk they crave so much.

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