The last definition of the word “creole” in my dictionary defines it as a language that is formed of two distinct ones but spoken as a native tongue. I think I first heard this definition in a class on racial history, but it always seemed to apply best not to American heritage per se, but actually to American music.
It’s almost cliché to point out that jazz is the mixed (read: creole) language of European melody and African rhythm, but it is an important point for Americans to understand, if not for the apparent reasons. While the racial harmony angle is cute, the fact that jazz is a creole phenomenon says more about how art works than society does. Jazz is well-served by the “creole” moniker, for it is an American language, spoken musically and natively.
In that sense, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is pure creole, which is a paradox not only because creole isn’t really pure at all, but because the band isn’t either. In fact, the Tiny Universe is more than a simple blend of a couple of influences. Offering up a groove-heavy pleasure cruise of jazz, dance and soulful funk, the Tiny Universe seems as tightly packed as one of their shows.
Fronted by the former sax-master for Lenny Kravitz, Karl Denson, the Tiny Universe will be coming off a few dates playing with the String Cheese Incident. For Denson, the road is surely a familiar place; he toured with Kravitz in support of Let Love Rule and Mama Said. In 1992 Denson signed to the German label Minor Music and recorded four acoustic jazz albums. Each one named after some kind of food, the last, Chunky Pecan Pie paired him with Miles Davis alumni Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland.
Clearly, Denson has made his mark in the jazz and rock world, but when he formed the Greyboy Allstars in 1994, Denson embarked on an homage to not just jazz but dance music. Now playing with the Tiny Universe, Denson, according to his press material, is “arranging the myriad of stars just so as to create a ready portal into the next dimension of soul.”
In what would be a musical endeavor fraught with peril for lesser musicians, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe manages to be funky, tight, and when you close your eyes and let the music do its work, they do create that portal into the next dimension of soul, the creole dimension of the American soul.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe plays 140 West Pine this Sunday, March 12. Tickets $8 in advance, $10 at the door. For showtimes and other info, call 829-3893.