Denson returns – this time with Greyboy Allstars |

Denson returns – this time with Greyboy Allstars

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Times fileSaxophonist Karl Denson performs Thursday at Belly Up Aspen with Greyboy Allstars.

ASPEN – Karl Denson is almost at the point where he can call himself a part-time Aspenite.The saxophonist, who calls San Diego home, sat in for virtually the whole set when Colorado’s Leftover Salmon played the Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brewfest last month. Denson returned to Snowmass early this month when his Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe played the opening show in the Snowmass Free Concert Series on Fanny Hill.And he completes the hat trick Thursday, appearing at Belly Up Aspen as a member of Greyboy Allstars. (And if you want to think in terms of a grand slam, Denson was in Aspen in February – though only as a skier, not as a performer.)For Denson, each gig represented a different side of his musical life.Interestingly, playing with Leftover Salmon – a band that mixes bluegrass, rock and zydeco – gave Denson the biggest opportunity to blow his jazz lines.”There’s a lot of things I practice as a jazz guy, as a bebop guy, that works when I play with them,” said Denson, who has been a guest with Leftover Salmon on several occasions. “It’s the real strict 1-4-5, fast-moving, back and forth. That’s like fast-tempo bebop. I always want to do that a little longer, so I can figure out the things that work.”The six-piece funk band Tiny Universe, which Denson started a decade ago, allows him to call all the shots, which can be a mixed blessing.”Tiny Universe is my invention,” he said. “Tiny Universe can be more fun for me sometimes, because it’s my ideas coming to fruition.”Greyboy Allstars is the band Denson is known best for. The group was founded in the early ’90s, when San Diego turntable star DJ Greyboy had Denson put together a live band for him to play with. Denson called on four of the area’s top groove players: keyboardist Robert Walter, bassist Chris Stillwell, drummer Zak Najor and guitarist Elgin Park.After some touring, Greyboy called it quits, but the band remained interested in finishing what it had started – namely, putting funk-jazz back on the map, and giving the sound, which had roots in the ’70s, a contemporary spin. As the Greyboy Allstars, they released a handful of albums and toured hard for several years. The quintet has taken extended breaks over the last decade, but for the past few years they have maintained a limited schedule. In 2007, they released the album “What Happened to Television,” which showed there was no rust on their playing.”The Allstars are for me, as a player, a little stronger, artistically,” said Denson, comparing his two funk outfits. “What these guys are able to do if they choose to do it … They’re coming with a little more of their own thing. Allstars can be a lot more fun on a playing level, because I can lay back and know it will make a lot of sense.”Even if Denson stops these regular trips to the area, fans can look forward to hearing more of his playing. Tiny Universe has a record ready for release in September. Denson said he put a lot of time into the project, and orchestrated horn and string parts, making for “a little more dense” album, but “a good, listenable soul record.”Meanwhile, the Greyboy Allstars are in the early stages of planning a record of their own. Denson expects it to go “in a little more electric” direction.What Aspenites haven’t heard – at least not this summer – is Denson’s jazz side. KD3, his acoustic trio, performed at the Wheeler Opera House two years ago. The combo has a few dates scheduled this summer, none nearby. Denson says his jazz playing came after he learned how to play funk, when he realized that his idols – saxophonists Eddie Harris and Yusef Lateef among them – started out playing something other than funk.”I figured out the thing I didn’t know was the traditional thing, that they had already mastered. Which was bebop,” Denson said. “I also figured out that playing only bebop doesn’t pay the bills.”

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