After a stint with Lenny Kravitz in the early '90s, saxman Karl Denson helped jumpstart the soul-jazz/boogaloo movement with the Greyboy All-Stars, one of the decade's premier live acid-jazz collectives. Several albums and countless shows later, he's still carrying the torch; "New Ammo," Denson's latest album with Tiny Universe, his longtime band, recently debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Jazz Album chart with a new batch of communal jams and rock-soul workouts, which Denson and company will unload on audiences on the festival circuit this summer.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe plays Fairfield Theatre into the 21st century. CTNow asked Denson about the new album and life on the road.
CTNow: I'm loving the new album, "New Ammo." It sounds like you embraced the rock on this one. Were you looking to get a little heavy?
Karl Denson: Appreciate you saying that. It's great to hear. Heaviness is always at the root of what I'm trying to do. The heaviness from this record I think came more from me allowing the band to do what they do naturally. This is why I think it really reflects our live show more so than any other record I've made previously.
CTNow: You've mentioned you feel this record represents a new era for Tiny Universe. How so?
KD: This is a very collaborative record. Everybody had more say so than on my previous projects. I wanted to create a real band sound and we're hoping to continue that moving forward.
CTNow: You also explored a number of cues from cinema – Russ Meyer stuff, other '70s films – that served as inspiration for longer excursions. Where did that idea come from? Had you tried it before?
KD: The whole style of music that I've been playing since the Greyboy All-Stars has always been slightly cinema inspired. Film is one of the places that you'll find the rarest funky grooves. It's always a place I go to find new material that nobody has heard, but it's usually not this ambitious in terms of orchestration.
CTNow: Some awesome covers here: "Sure Shot," "Seven Nation Army," the Cold War Kids' "Hang Me Out To Dry." In general, how do you know when a song is right to cover?
KD: You just know if it fits the band or not. There's been a lot of covers that we played in the past that were kind of one-hit wonders. They were played for one or two shows and that was it. It's always cool when you're playing a cover and you feel like you've done something fresh with it to make it better or more unique. This latest batch has really been resonating with our audience, so I think you'll see them stick around for awhile.
CTNow: The way you cover "Hang Me Out to Dry" reminds me a little of parts of Lenny Kravitz's first two albums, which (of course) you played on. What was it like to work on those records?
KD: It was a real privilege to watch Lenny work. He's a master in the studio. He really had a new idea of what he was doing creatively when he hired me so it was a very interesting process to witness. I learned a ton.
CTNow: Any musical obsessions these days? Good reading material? Movies?
KD: I'm listening to an interesting mix of new indie bands like Ingrid Michaelson and Regina Spector, Jack White and then a lot of traditional straight ahead like Joe Henderson and Max Roach. I started reading "Game of Thrones" and I'm even working on my own script.
CTNow: What do you like to do when you roll into a new town?
KD: Find a good vegan restaurant or Whole Foods. We're trying to eat healthy these days on the road.