Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

When fans fill the State Theatre Feb. 9 to hear Karl Denson perform, they won’t hear tracks from the singer and saxophone player’s latest genre-blending release, 2009’s Brother’s Keeper. They won’t hear tracks popularized during his decades-long tenure with the funk-jazz outfit The Greyboy Allstars. They won’t hear the sax lines from his contributions to Lenny Kravitz’s debut album, 1989’s Let Love Rule. Instead, they’ll be treated to a rendition of the The Rolling Stones’ classic Sticky Fingers album, infused with the funk and soul grooves that Denson and his band, Tiny Universe, have become known for.

Denson and his management team wanted to put on a show centered on performing a classic album, and decided on Sticky Fingers, an album rich with memorable hit singles like “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses.” Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe debuted the show with a West Coast tour last fall.

“We’re not a rock and roll band, per se, we’re more of a funk and soul and jazz band, so we touch on these things every once in a while, but to go this deep into the strictly rock and roll vein is a departure for us,” Denson said. “Some of our fans were like, ‘how are you going to pull that off?’ But they were pleasantly surprised.”

Denson said the band took a “reverent approach” to preparing to play the album front to back on stage, first learning the songs as originally played by The Stones before adding elements to make the production uniquely their own, like a horn solo within the lesser-known track “Sister Morphine” which, in its original incarnation, is a brooding song electrified with guitar licks.

“I think we figured out how to make the whole thing feel like us for our fans,” Denson said.

It was a learning process for Denson, who was familiar with the chart-topping cuts from the album, but never owned the 1971 release and hadn’t heard the whole thing before preparing for the show.

“Now I know the record,” Denson said. “I totally get the vibe of the record now, and it’s kind of dark.” He highlighted B-side tracks like “I Got the Blues” and “Sister Morphine” as stand-out examples.

Tiny Universe first got its start in the late 1990s as a side project for Karl Denson, who was then performing with The Greyboy Allstars and was looking for a more vocals-focused project. The group features a revolving cast of acclaimed musicians, and for the East Coast leg of its Sticky Fingers tour will feature Denson on vocals, sax and flute; Tiny Universe founding member David Veith on keyboards; longtime Greyboy Allstars bassist Chris Stillwell; Chris Littlefield on trumpet; John Staten on drums; and Tiny Universe newcomer D.J. Williams on guitar. Also taking the stage with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe will be blues-rock singer-songwriter Anders Osborne, who will be trading vocals with Denson and playing guitar.

The Anders Osborne Trio will open for the band for all of its 11 shows planned nearly back-to-back from Feb. 7 – 18.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe has a record set for release this summer, and is considering recording the Sticky Fingers show with some special guests for an Internet release, but in the meantime Denson said the group is just enjoying taking its Sticky Fingers show on the road.

“We make a record every couple of years, and most of the time, we’re not touring to promote anything specifically – except the fact that we like to play music,” Denson said. “So this just gives us something else for our fans, which is really the purpose of it.”

• For more information about Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, visit karldenson.us.

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