Karl Denson – Lunar Orbit (2007)

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by Pico

Rare groove merchant Karl Denson has been around since serving as a sideman to Lenny Kravitz during Kravitz’ peak Let Love Grow/Are You Gonna Go My Way era. But since that career-enhancing stint, Denson focused his sax, flute and singing talents on the acid jazz scene that was burgeoning about a dozen years ago. He first made his splash there by co-founding one of the more important groups of that genre, The Greyboy Allstars. Since then, Denson formed his own groups, making music along generally the same vein.

In recent years, K.D. formed Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, a jam band oriented outfit that sounded a lot like Deep Banana Blackout, but was more likely inspired by Denson’s deep James Brown influences, down to his association with Brown’s musical director and trombonist Fred Wesley and even JB himself. He also counts Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef as major influences. Denson has more than just funk influences he can bring to bear. His stint with Kravitz honed his rock chops and he’s even released a straight-jazz album shortly after he left Kravitz’ band.

Combined with the longer song forms and organic sounds, this first offering from The Karl Denson Trio impresses me as Denson’s most earnest attempt to combine the improvision and free flow of jazz with the soulful grooves of earthy R&B and funk since The D Stands For Diesel from ten years back.

The nine-minute-plus title track which kicks off the album is at once the oddball number and centerpiece track. It’s not R&B at all with a cymbal-heavy rock drumming and a repeating two-note organ pattern. Denson mans the flute for this track in a style reminiscent of Herbie Mann’s late sixties crossover phase. The Moog-ish synth bass comes right out of Genesis’ “Abacab,” and the whole song rocks hard the same way.

After that, it’s a funky good time the rest of the way.

“Break Me Down” is a warm electric piano driven night groove ridden on top by Denson’s Eddie Harris-styled electrified sax. Denson returns later with the electric saxophone on mellow groover “By Appointment Only.”

The James Brown connection comes to fore on tracks like the energetic workout number “The Plain Truth” and the uptight “The Other Thing.”

“Dingo Dog Sled” moves you with a sharp counter beat and a unison sax/organ run on the bridge. The alto sax Denson employs on the sunny “Won’t Somebody” has strong echoes of Wesley’s old JB Horns band mate Maceo Parker.

With such an emphasis on mostly laid-back grooves after the opener and little changes, it’s tempting to call this a lightweight effort. But Denson places value on stretching out and puts in enough edge in his sound to avoid the dreaded “smooth jazz” label. Besides, no one ever accused Big John Patton of being a pansy, and the organ-based soul-jazz foundation that guys like Patton made a name out of is all over this record. And so, Lunar Orbit might not work for every mood but if there’s a need to move and sway a bit to a greasy beat, soulful chords, and hot sax or flute licks, this is your record.

Purchase: Karl Denson – Lunar Orbit

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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