Karl Denson

Critics and codgers continue to debate the merits of revisionist jazz historicism, a near-endless cycle that only exacerbates the valuation of classic reissues over original efforts (with due blame falling on Ken Burns’ shoulders for this current round of dead-horse beating). Meanwhile, another urban and urbane jazz renaissance is quietly gathering momentum. The trippy funk-injected stylings of groups such as Medeski, Martin and Wood and the Greyboy Allstars prove that jazz can still dance without abandoning creative intellect.

Rekindling the spirit of Lee Morgan’s 1963 release Sidewinder and Herbie Hancock’s 1974 Head Hunters, saxophonist/flutist Karl Denson drops a few more elements into the mix on his newest release, Dance Lesson #2. With the help of MMW’s Chris Wood on bass, former Greyboy drummer Zak Najor, guitarist Melvin Sparks and DJ Logic on tables, Denson assembles a concise collection of funk-flavored tracks padded with freestyling club grooves.

From the expansive spaciness of “Like Like Dope” to the tight modern swing of “A.J. Bustah,” Denson whispers and roars on alto, tenor and flute, showing that he is capable of balancing his jazz roots with his more contemporary influences. Other cuts, such as “A Shorter Path #2,” reveal a more seductive and sensuous side to his playing that drives the music in a completely different direction, free from jam-band pyrotechnics and dance-club gimmickry.

While his palette is broad, Denson remains firmly in control of his compositional vision. The slow, deliberate layering of the Lee Morgan-inspired “Rumpwinder” plays strongly to Denson’s traditional sensibilities, while the Latin pulse of “Flute Down” illustrates his ability to incorporate far-reaching influences. This is the fresh side of today’s jazz, reaching out to draw from an ever-expanding pool of musical fashion without sacrificing a firm awareness of its own history.

Categories: Music