Galactic

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Galactic

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

Wed · July 10, 2019

Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 7:00 pm

$33.00 - $40.00

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Galactic
Galactic
It's incredible that GALACTIC has never made a carnival album yet, but now it's here.
To make CARNIVALE ELECTRICOS, the members of GALACTIC (Ben Ellman, harps and horns; Robert Mercurio, bass; Stanton Moore, drums and percussion; Jeff Raines, guitar; Rich Vogel, keyboards) draw on the skills, stamina, and funk they deploy in the all-night party of their annual Lundi Gras show that goes till sunrise and leads sleeplessly into Mardi Gras day.
GALACTIC was formed eighteen years ago in New Orleans, and they cut their teeth playing the biggest party in America: Mardi Gras, when the town shuts down entirely to celebrate. CARNIVALE ELECTRICOS is beyond a party record. It's a carnival record that evokes the electric atmosphere of a whole city – make that, whole cities – vibrating together all on the same day, from New Orleans all down the hemisphere to the mighty megacarnivals of Brazil. Armed with a slew of carnival-ready guests—including Cyril and Ivan Neville, Mystikal, Mannie Fresh, Moyseis Marques, Casa Samba, the KIPP Renaissance High School Marching Band, and Al "Carnival Time" Johnson (who remakes his all-time hit)—GALACTIC whisks the listener around the neighborhoods to feel the Mardi Gras moment in all its variety of flavors.

GALACTIC is a collaborative band with a unique format. It's a stable quintet that plays together with high musicianship. They've been together so long they're telepathic. But though the band hasn't had a lead singer for years, neither is it purely an instrumental group. GALACTIC is part of a diverse community of musicians, and in their own studio, with Mercurio and Ellman producing, they have the luxury of experimenting. So on their albums, they do something that's unusual in rock but not so controversial an idea in, say, hiphop: they create something that's a little like a revue, a virtual show featuring different vocalists (mostly from New Orleans) and instrumental soloists each taking their turn on stage in the GALACTIC sound universe.
Mostly the band creates new material in collaboration with its many guests, though they occasionally rework a classic. Despite the appearance of various platinum names on GALACTIC albums, they especially like to work with artists who are still underground. If you listen to CARNIVALE ELECTRICOS together with the two previous studio albums (YA-KA-MAY and FROM THE CORNER TO THE BLOCK), you'll hear the most complete cross-section of what's happening in contemporary New Orleans anywhere – all of it tight and radio-ready.
Despite the electronics and studio technology, GALACTIC's albums are very much band records. Mercurio explained the GALACTIC process, which starts out with the beat: ―The way we write music,‖ he says, ―we come up with a demo, or a basic track, and then we collectively decide how we're gonna finish it.‖ The result is a hard-grooving sequence of tight beats across a range of styles that glides from one surprise to the next.
What pulls all the diverse artists on CARNIVALE ELECTRICOS together into a coherent album is that one way or another, it's all funk. GALACTIC is, always was, and always will be a funk band. Whatever genre of music anyone in New Orleans is doing, from Mardi Gras Indians to rock bands to hardcore rappers, it's all funk at the bottom, because funk is the common musical language, the lingua franca of New Orleans music. Even zydeco can be funky -- and if you don't believe it, check out ―Voyage Ton Flag,‖ the album's evocation of Cajun Mardi Gras, in which Mamou Playboy STEVE RILEY meets up with a sampled Clifton Chenier inside the GALACTIC funk machine
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Singer and saxophonist Karl Denson fronts his band the Tiny Universe as if he’s preaching the gospel. Merging funk, soul, rock, jazz, blues and more, his energy and spirit are contagious, while his songwriting serves a larger message of fellowship—across generations, genders, religions and cultures. Not surprisingly then, he’s none too pleased with the current state of political discourse. Thus the reason why KDTU’s new album, Gnomes & Badgers, out now on Seven Spheres Records, Denson’s hard-grooving answer to these tragically divisive times.

“As a writer and a human being, I’m affected by what goes on around me,” Denson says. “I’ve always been interested in politics, and what I’m seeing now just disturbs me. I saw this idea of Gnomes & Badgers—which are the different people in the world, the different parties on the left and the right—as a great way to frame the political debate and the debate about listening to each other. Somebody needs to say something, and hopefully I can say it in a way that will make people reconsider how they think about things.”

That theme of compassionate exchange is showcased especially well on choice cuts like “Time to Pray” and “Change My Way,” the latter co-crafted by Denson and his “writing mentor” Anders Osborne. But through the music’s blues essence, an idea of empathy traverses the album in full. “There’s some heartache in there that is hopefully concealed well enough to make people happy while still feeling it,” Denson explains. “To me this is really a blues record. It’s a blues about love; it’s a blues about life. It’s about people’s relationships.”

To aid him in his mission, Denson tapped some of his legendary friends, including The Rolling Stones’ keyboardist and Allman Brothers Band alum Chuck Leavell, guitar-slinging singer-songwriter Lukas Nelson, New Orleans guitar hero Anders Osborne, Austin producer and guitarist Adrian Quesada and NOLA R&B royal Ivan Neville. There’s no doubt Denson is also drawing influence and inspiration from his other main gigs, as a touring member of The Rolling Stones and the linchpin of the beloved jazz-funk unit The Greyboy Allstars.

Collectively the process of creating Gnomes & Badgers led to the current itineration of the Tiny Universe. After recording in various studios over a two-year period, Denson couldn’t find the cohesion he was after and ending up scrapping his work, save for three tracks. “So we went back to the drawing board,” he says, “and in the process I kind of dialed my band in.”

The resulting lineup is nothing less than a juggernaut. In the rhythm section, the Tiny Universe features Greyboy bassist Chris Stillwell and former Greyboy drummer Zak Najor, as well as keyboardists David Veith and Kenneth Crouch, Denson’s pal from his years in Lenny Kravitz’s band. Alongside Denson on the frontline is trumpeter Chris Littlefield, and providing the lineup’s secret weapon of sorts is the twin-guitar attack of D.J. Williams, a tremendous funk player in both tone and technique, and the Arkansas-born slide and lap-steel virtuoso Seth Freeman. With those two contrasting yet brilliantly complementary pickers in tow, Denson feels like he’s cracked the Tiny Universe’s code. “Now I can write funk and have a rock-n-roll edge,” he says. “It’s the perfect blend of elements.”

In designing the signature meld of grit and groove that defines Gnomes & Badgers, Denson had plenty of role models to check out. With his own demos scattered into the mix, he listened to a playlist of essential rock-tinged funk and psychedelic soul throughout his writing sessions. Indeed, it’s hard not to hear Funkadelic in the opening roar of “Can We Trade,” or Rufus featuring Chaka Khan in the late-night soul of “Just Remember,” or Tower of Power in the horn-driven, power-funk of “Time to Pray,” or Betty Davis in the rough-and-tough funk-rock of “Change My Way.”

Elsewhere, Denson’s song-craft summons up Sly and the Family Stone, Labelle, Cymande, James Brown and Stevie Wonder. The project’s lone cover, a killer take on Cyril Neville’s late-’60s single “Gossip,” underscores Denson’s savvy taste in programming. Denson’s previous release New Ammo featured select covers by the Beatie Boys, Cold War Kids and the White Stripes.

In the end these hip, historically savvy tunes are just a delivery system for Denson’s philosophy of understanding. “I was very outspoken early on, but I’ve also really tried to [express my views] in a loving way and tried to be a good listener,” he says. “I’m still trying to connect with my audience and people around me, in terms of trying to keep all of us responsible for what we say and do.”
Venue Information:
Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre
2280 E. Red Butte Canyon Road
Salt Lake City, UT, 84108
http://redbuttegarden.ticketfly.com/