Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Hip-hop, R&B, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

cover art

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

New Ammo

(Stoopid; US: 4 Feb 2014)

The cover of the Tiny Universe’s new album features a dog with a saxophone in his mouth. It’s appropriate, since saxman/bandleader Karl Denson has established himself as a top dog in the acid jazz/funk/jam scene. There’s a slew of such bands competing for fans’ attention these days, but Denson has been leading the pack since the late 20th century.

New Ammo is KDTU’s first release on Stoopid Records, a result of Denson’s work touring with his fellow San Diegans in Slightly Stoopid. It’s also symbolic of how the Tiny Universe continues to expand its eclectic sound. The jazzy funk jams will always be the band’s bread and butter, but KDTU appeals to a wider audience by also dabbling in rock, blues, and hip hop.

Some feared the band’s musical evolution might be hindered when longtime guitarist Brian Jordan departed in 2011, as he seemed to be such a perfect fit. But Denson scored again with guitarist D.J. Williams, and the band still features mainstays Chris Stillwell on bass, David Veith on keyboards and Chris Littlefield on trumpet. The group has been gelling again over the past two years and the results are evident here with a mix of fresh new tunes and a handful of sharp covers.

The band’s diversity is featured on an instrumental cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot”, which features some jazzy flute yet still maintains the hip hop flavor of the original. Then there are high-powered takes on the Cold War Kids’ “Hang Me Out to Dry” and the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. The band has already road-tested “Seven Nation Army” with great results, blending the song’s anthemic power with the Tiny Universe’s jazzy syncopated flair. Nicki Bluhm also guests for a vocal duet with Denson on the bluesy “My Baby”, and its always great to see such collaborations within the tight-knit jamrock community.

But the meat of the album is the Tiny Universe on its own, throwing down a slew of great new material. The title track is a super funky jam penned by Williams. It features the twin horns of Denson and Littlefield in an extended uptempo workout, as well as a fierce solo from Williams leaving no doubt the guitar spot is well taken care of. “The Duel” is another highlight, a cinematic cut that sounds like it could be the soundtrack from a chase scene in an Austin Powers flick. Denson credits bassist Stillwell for influencing the band here with his vast collection of old school funk soundtrack albums from the early 1970s. Veith contributes “Cheerleader”, a bluesy blastoff where the surging keys power a hot groove.

The whole band shines on stellar jams like “Grenadiers” and “Apres Ski”, with the latter promising to get bodies moving on dance floors everywhere. If there’s ever a sequel to Hot Tub Time Machine, the Tiny Universe should be in it jamming this track for John Cusack and friends to get down to.

The band’s jazzier side is featured toward the end of the album, when the energetic “Malgorium” breaks down into an ambient interlude that gives everyone a chance to stretch out. Then there’s the 10-minute album closer “Odysseus”, which starts off with a simmering groove that the band builds up in expert fashion. The horns crackle over a funky riff from Williams and some great psychedelic work from Veith, as the song builds into a hot jam that takes the listener on a true journey into the heart of the Tiny Universe.

Like most of its peers, KDTU is a band known more for their incendiary live shows than their studio output. But New Ammo does a stellar job of capturing the band’s live energy and demonstrating why the band is always a hot ticket on the road.


Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.

Related Articles
2 Apr 2014
No two shows are ever the same when you have a band that can stretch out the sonic landscape like these tone scientists can.
13 Nov 2013
Denson and company have provided a valuable 21st century service in delivering their ever dependable groovy dance jams, year after year, without fail.
27 Aug 2013
Phish aftershow parties have become something of a cottage industry in recent years and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is one of the best outfits on the planet for such duty.
9 Nov 2011
This Sticky Fingers cover set would be a satisfying show in and of itself for many, but those who know Karl Denson know he's just getting started.
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks

© 1999-2015 All rights reserved.™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.