Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

There’s a funk band playing just about every night in some packed club somewhere, and the best or most famous funk bands tour all the time. But funk bands typically don’t sell a lot of records, and they don’t get a lot of press. I’ve always thought that was because funk is essentially critic-proof. The only barometer that really matters to a funk band is whether the audience dances.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it, anyway. To a guy like Karl Denson, the dancing part is obviously important, but there are other things going on as well. Denson first gathered a following almost 20 years ago as a horn player in Lenny Kravitz’s band. In the early ’90s, Denson struck out on his own as a jazz player and then founded San Diego’s Greyboy Allstars, one of the leading lights of what was then called the acid-jazz scene. Denson started a new band, Tiny Universe, in 1997 and quickly began stealing the show at jam-band festivals.

Onstage with Tiny Universe, Denson often doesn’t stray too far from the James Brown and George Clinton templates, but his records are a different story. Denson usually records with a different lineup than the one he tours with, and each of his releases explores a different kind of collaboration. Sometimes he works in an organic, jazz-oriented vein (he records for the historic jazz label Blue Note), sometimes he goes for a more electronic sound, and sometimes he works with a turntablist or includes other hip-hop elements. Sometimes the records have vocals and sometimes they don’t. Funk is the language Denson speaks, but he has lots of things to say.

KARL DENSON’S TINY UNIVERSE: Belly Up, Saturday, December 27, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. $20.

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