Bigger and Better:
Jam Veteran Takes on 2014 With New Ammo

Words by Dan Petito
Photo by Alicia Rose

Conversely, we all have a musician that we associate with their respective instrument; it may not be something we constantly think about, but for the above-average music fan it’s fair to speculate it’s crossed their mind. For me it’s easy: Jimi Hendrix on electric guitar, Keith Moon on the drums and Steve Winwood on the keys. Sure, these choices will depend heavily on your musical preferences, as they should, but when it comes to other instruments outside the obvious – in this particular case, the saxophone – Karl Denson is without a doubt the first to pop on the radar, and for all the right reasons.

Denson’s outlook on music is intriguing, just as, if not more than his resume as a musician. We caught up with the acclaimed saxophonist and got a glimpse into what it’s been like collaborating with friends, creating new material and what we can expect from his new album with The Tiny Universe, New Ammo. Hint: the title of this piece may or may not give anything away..

“It’s like having a beer with your neighbor,” explained Denson on collaborating with Robert Walter on the new album. “Doing new things with friends is always fun, it’s about what they bring and how they’ve evolved and it’s always exciting to see what they bring to the table.”

The 57 year old musician is no stranger to the live experience. In fact, if you’ve ever seen Denson live you’ll notice a common thread in his live shows are his interactions with the crowd. From someone who has such a noticeably less conventional approach to a live performance, it was interesting to get his take on what it’s like before that moment a musician gets on stage, whether it be for the first time or the four-hundredth.

“It’s not the most exciting part of the night,” Denson adds. “It’s like starting something completely new, the most exciting part is usually midway into the first song and interacting with the audience. When we know and see the crowd is into it that’s when things start to really get special.”

On making mistakes during a live performance, they didn’t seem to bother the veteran saxophonist. “We just handle them with a straight face”, he shares. “People are having so much fun, they aren’t interested in mistakes. We’ve gotten really good at having fun with those kinds of things. That’s part of jamming, making mistakes.”

Having not released any new material with the Tiny Universe since Brother’s Keeper in 2009, Denson was, expectedly, excited to get back into the studio and, in his words, “get it all down.” Denson welcomes a lot of the familiar faces onto New Ammo: DJ Williams (Guitar), John Staten (Drums), Chris Stilwell (Bass), and usual suspects Mike Dillon and the infamous Robert Walter among others. When asked to share what we can expect from the new album, Denson’s answer was short but promising.

“It’s a bit more orchestrated, the horns are bigger, it’s more cinematic in a way. If I had to paraphrase: bigger and better.”

Being a musician it was satisfying to hear someone like Denson talk about how he continues to surprise himself musically. It’s always such an interesting thing to hear, whether it’s during a live performance or in the studio. He went on to explain how a lot of these “moments” happen not only while improvising, but during actual verses of songs themselves. He compared it a lot to skiing, “sometimes you can just hit a jump and do something awesome and land it perfectly,” Denson comments. Something that he and the Tiny Universe seem to have achieved unanimously after giving New Ammo subsequent listens. | Royal Potato Family