Although Denson played two nights at Bear Creek, his first performance was on Thursday night, so us ‘standard’ pass festival attendees missed out on the first one. Sadly he had another show to play in Asheville NC on Saturday, so we never got to hear any Karl Denson sit-ins. That is a very sad thing indeed. We had riffed that these guys should all just block off their entire weekends for this festival. It’s like a whole crowd and place that is entirely celebrating what it is that you do. The crowd is sprinkled with t-shirts from Ubiquity Records and plastered everywhere are multicolored stickers reading “I wants to get funked up!” This time and place is one huge homage to the heavy-groovin side of the jam scene.
One topic that got a lot of conversation was, ‘what makes a great horn solo?’ With the kinds of rhythm sections that play at this fest (all those Royal Family guys) it’s almost like the backing band is really what sends the wave crashing over the seawall when you hit that peak in the energy, rather than the soloist themself. You may think you’re listening to the solo, but it’s really the steady swelling of energy in the rhythm section that fires up the crowd when the climax of the solo arrives. It’s tough to find a horn player who can actually ride ON TOP of that wave as it reaches its zenith. That is to say someone who can, at the very moment of apogee, pull out some phrases other than a long held note, that really pull your ear and keep you locked on what the soloist is doing. Bennie Maupin from Herbie Hancock comes to mind. Out of the Bear Creek horns, Karl Denson probably does that best.
While we were listening to him solo with Lettuce, Bill made the excellent observation that a lot of the time, sax player Ryan Zoidis is practically a part of the rhythm section when he gets his chance to blow. His style of playing often sees him laying out long passages where he plays the same note in various syncopated placements, as opposed to cascading lines or melodies. We had been discussing the various sax players who were familiar faces at the fest, among them Ryan Zoidis, Skerik, Sam Kinninger, and Karl Denson. Bill placed them in that ascending order for his enthusiasm. I think I might agree with him, possibly swapping Kinninger and Skeik, depending on the night.
But all this is some deeply heady nitpicking. Make no mistake, these guys are all giant badasses, and you’d have an awfully rough time coming up with dudes who can do what they do.
During the Dumpstaphunk performance at the close of the festival on Sunday night Ivan Neville went to announce their horn section and due to it being fairly dark back where they were standing, he yelled out, “We got COMPLICATED stars on the horns back there! …It’s a sick horn section! Sam Kinninger, Ryan Zoidis, Skerik, and Rashawn Ross” Bill and I looked at each other and said at the same time “That ISSS a sick horn section!!” Haha!
The last group I’ll point out, which I will be talking more about later, is the Snarky Puppy horn section. Out of all these guys, the SP horns were definitely the most ‘jazzy’. I greatly enjoyed listening to this section, particularly some creative solos that were busted out. More to come on that.