|Just few days after finishing up another blazing hot run at Jazzfest 2001 NOLA, Karl Denson dropped his highly anticipated Blue Note Records debut in the timeliest of fashions. An allstar groove lineup of gigantic proportions, anybody who was disappointed that Karl’s band Tiny Universe wasn’t backing will be relieved by the first Melvin Sparks solo or Leon Spencer Jr. click of the organ.
The disc opens with the title track, lead by a soothing Karl tenor melody and DJ Logic’s stamp of turntablist approval. This sets the tone for the album with Karl leading and Logic reacting. Logic’s influence is omnipresent throughout the disc in the the form of tweaked sonic passages, oddly placed scratches, and Eric B. style old school record cuts. The whole vibe of the opener, and the record, is old school groove. This is evidenced by the immediate takeoff of the “Guitar Man” Melvin Sparks. Just like in his heyday, he leaps into solos with reckless abandon, riding notes to a bend and into smooth, sultry Spencer organ rolls. The first track is an exercise in retro boogaloo with a millenial taste of neo-funk.
Ron Levy contributes the second and fifth tracks, different in style and delivery, but equally impressive. The Galactic-tinged “Like Like Dope” is a swampy affair, complete with stellar bottom end brought on by the tandem of MMW’s Chris Wood on acoustic and electric basses and bible thumping Greyboy drummer Zak Najor. They connect remarkably throughout the album whether it be the straight jazz of Levy’s “AJ Bustah” or the far out soul dream allbum closer, “Who Are You.” Along with elegant hand drummer forte EJ Rodriguez, the backbone team of Wood and Najor really plunge the dark hard edge of groove on “A Shorter Path #2.” This is where Sparks takes the listener on a psychedelic ride through jazz and funk, simlutaneously and tastefully.
Another highlight of the record is the Denson update of the Lee Morgan chestnut “The Sidewinder,” rechristned in the spirit of all things groove, “The Rumpwinder.” Judging by the reception this song got at Jazzfest performances, the asses shake like Mystikal when this proverbial bomb gets dropped. “The Rumpwinder” finds 8 string wunderkind Charlie Hunter really stepping to the forefront of the mix, which retains the feel of a live jam despite the studio overdubbs of turntables, percussion, and sax/flute melodies.
Much respect goes out to Karl, who not only united the bright stars of the new groove like Hunter, Wood, but also reared back to the vaults and legends for Sparks and Spencer, as well as going back the the trusty well of the Lord for his old skin basher Najor. Sure, a Tiny Universe album would be great, but it isn’t everyday that we get a dream team from so many generations that gels cohesively; Hunter should bring some of this experience over to similar project Mike Clark’s Prescription Renewal.
The shining moment on Dance Lesson #2 is the fourth track, “Flute Down” where KD jumps out with the sexiest, soothing flute melody. With the band positively cooking behind him, Denson engineers a song and emotion for the ages. His flute down is so sensually stimulating that it is inevitable but to squirm nervously as the song takes off with yet another Sparks solo to the stars. When you thought it could not get any nastier, it then drops into a three chord R&B jam that just begs for D’Angelo (or Marvin for that matter) to serenade over. Spencer is just Hammond clickin’ away at your heart as Karl flutes over your domepiece; no amount of rug cuttin’ or brake pumpin’ can save you now.
As a critical listener, huge fan of Karl, and tireless promoter and proponent of Rare Groove, I am so proud and thankful that this band and Karl made this record. That they made it on Blue Note is a notice of arrival for not only the jazz, not only the jam, but the music community, that this groove is now, it is relevant, and this groove is hot.
[Published on: 6/6/01]
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