Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe: Brother’s Keeper

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe expands with the first KDTU CD in seven years, one that takes Denson in a surprising new direction, veering sharply from jam-heavy funk and into a more personal style that bears the influences of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. Returning is guitarist Brian Jordan, but there’s a whole new lineup with Meshell Ndegeocello on bass, Kenneth Crouch on keys, Zak Najor on drums, Marc Ford (Black Crowes) on guitar and Laura Reed and Debrissa McKinney on backing vocals.

Brother’s Keeper is poles apart from the Greyboy Allstars and KD3 jazz-funk trio. Denson is a wonderfully versatile saxophonist, but here it’s his vocals that make this one of the best retro-soul discs in recent years. Although the CD leads with the summer fun of “Shake It Out,” Denson steps into Marvin territory with “Brother’s Keeper” and “The Drums of War,” even if the latter is lyrically heavy-handed. Bob Marley earns an appreciative nod with the reggae rise-up anthem “Mighty Rebel,” which also throws a shout out to the Specials’ “Ghost Town.” And don’t miss “Monica,” a tempo-changing ditty about young love, getting older, experience, pride and a few others twists on life’s great roller-coaster.