Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe R.E.S.P.E.K.T. – A Special Tribute To The Queen of Soul


One of the caveats of attending Jazzfest in New Orleans are the night shows. Many “one-off” events occur each year. This year Karl Denson took it upon himself to pull together a homage to Aretha Franklin billed as R.E.S.P.E.K.T. (with K.T. representing Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe) – A Special Tribute To The Queen of Soul. Besides the tribute Carl Broemel and Durand Jones and The Indications were the openers.

Most of the crowd was familiar with Carl Broemel as the lead guitarist of My Morning Jacket. The trio included Tom Blankenship, bassist of MMJ. Broemel’s set was packed with the type of guitar heroics which have helped establish MMJ as a live powerhouse. Highlights included “Sleepy Lagoon” and “4th of July.”

Next up was Durand Jones and The Indications. These five former students of Indiana University released their self-titled album in 2016 and are now promoting their sophomore release American Love Call. Lead vocalist Durand Jones shares vocals with drummer Aaron Frazer. This amazing group of twenty somethings conjures up a modern day impression of Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, etc.

It was obvious the crowd was unfamiliar with the the band due to incessant chattering while the band performed their opening number. As soon as drummer Aaron Frazer added his falsetto vocals to “Don’t You Know” the audience took notice. What followed was a LOVEFEST. Think vintage Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, or The Miracles. Songs with themes of romance and heartbreak had the audience swaying in unison. After this set some babies were going to be made! This band proved that the beauty and sound of vintage soul is as relevant today as it was in the past.

The audience was now primed for the Aretha Franklin tribute. In past years Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe had won accolades due to their tributes to classic albums from the Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones. The audience got a hint of what was come as the stage crew lined up one microphone center stage and four microphones stage left.

The the houselights dimmed and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe took the stage. The middle of the stage was left bare as members Mike Dillon (percussion), Zak Najor (drums), David Veith (keys), DJ Williams (guitar), Seth Freeman (slide/lap steel guitar), Chris Stllwell (bass), Chris Littlefield (trumpet) and of course Karl Denson (tenor sax, flute, and vocals) took their spots. Guest vocalists included Kim Dawson (Matador! Soul Sounds), Lanita May, Sweetie, Angelica JelliJoseph (Tank and The Bangas), and Lyle Divinsky (The Motet).

Denson introduced the audience to the program and declared the vocalist would be the focus of this concert, he would just be another horn player. What followed was a thirteen song set in which Aretha would have approved. The song selection revolved around Divinsky, Joseph, and Dawson. The vocalist fed off one another constantly encouraging each other. Highlights included “Chain Chain Chain,” “Baby I Love You,” and “Aint’ No Way.” Special guest Boyfriend and her assistant delighted the crowd with their rendition of “Respect.” Boyfriend, dressed in tights, a polka dotted shirt, mini apron, and curlers, and her assistant used a frying pan, dollar bills, plastic flowers and tampons as props. By the end of the number Boyfriend was standing on the drum riser stripped down to a bra and panties banging the cymbals as the crowd went crazy. The tribute ended with and electrifying “Rock Steady” in which the horn players shined.

This was undoubtedly my favorite night show of Jazzfest. Only a person devoid of a soul would have not enjoyed the evening’s performances. If you attend Jazzfest in 2020 and Karl Denson performs a tribute concert, I strongly suggest you by your tickets early. The reputation of these performances will guarantee a sellout and you will be left ticketless on the street.

See Saw (Lyle) / Baby I Love You (Jelli) / I Say A Little Prayer (Kim) / I Never Loved A Man (Kim) / Chain Chain Chain (Jelli) / Sweet Sweet Baby (Lyle) / Ain’t No Way (Lyle) / House That Jack Built (Kim) / Respect (Boyfriend) / Love The One You’re With (Lyle) / Dr. Feel Good (Jelli) / Until You Come Back (Kim) / Rock Steady (Jelli)