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Ear to the Ground: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe’s “My Baby”

For the last 30 years, saxophonist Karl Denson has done stints with Lenny Kravitz, the Greyboy Allstars, and Slightly Stoopid, but this hard-grooving solo effort is where he really hits his stride.

Karl Denson is obviously a lifer. For nearly 30 years, the saxophone sophisticate has played with Lenny Kravitz, founded boogaloo revivalists the Greyboy Allstars, and got mellow with dub rockers Slightly Stoopid. But the solo project Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is where the man truly hits his stride. The group’s ability to blend rock, jazz, blues, and funk without sounding like a kettle-corn festival jam band (not that there’s anything wrong with that) is in and of itself commendable.

The Universe’s latest album, New Ammo, boasts a three-piece horn section, groovy Hammond B-3 and Rhodes playing, a rhythm section that recalls the Meters’ ability to somehow sound simultaneously locked-in and loosey-goosey, and a 6-string jedi in the form of D.J. Williams.

The track “My Baby” begins on a Bo Diddley-esque riff that sounds like old humbuckers being pushed through a classic 5E3 amp that’s so vintage the tweed is falling off. The rhythm section drops a heavy strut before Denson comes in to trade vacuum-tight phrases with guest vocalist Nicki Bluhm. If this tune doesn’t make you move—or at least smile—it’s quite possible you hate music.