Sunday, February 7, 2021

Gayelynn McKinney And McKinney Zone: “Zoot Suit Funk” (2021) CD Review


Gayelynn McKinney is a talented drummer who has performed with some excellent artists, including Aretha Franklin, Freda Payne, Larry Corryell and Chaka Khan. You might also know her from her work in the group Straight Ahead, of which she is a founding member. Gayelynn McKinney also has a solo career, and on her latest release, Zoot Suit Funk, she delivers mostly original material. Joining her on this album are Ibrahim Jones on bass; Trenita Womack on congas, tambourine and vocals; Rafael Statin on saxophone, bass flute and bass clarinet; Alex Anest on guitar; and Demetrius Nabors on keys.

The album opens with “Stylin’,” a tune with an interesting sound, like a relaxed smooth jazz sound meeting funk. It features some cool work on bass, as well as great leads on saxophone and keys. Trenita Womack and Gayelynn McKinney are on vocals, occasionally repeating the one word “stylin’.” The drumming is of course excellent, but isn’t really the focus here. Then in the next track, “Space Goddess,” they start to get to some exciting drumming. Here Gayelynn McKinney cuts loose, along with Trenita Womack on congas, and the two of them really drive this piece. I love the way this one moves and grooves. I particularly like the way this track takes off before the end, feeling like a celebration of the space goddess. (By the way, is it like a goddess from outer space? Or is it just a goddess here on Earth who demands at least six feet of space around her due to the pandemic?)

The first of the album’s covers is Jill Scott’s “My Love,” with vocal work by Trenita Womack and Gayelynn McKinney. This rendition has a pleasant groove, one you might find yourself tapping your feet to. This track also features a really good lead on guitar. For me, this one gets even better and more interesting as it goes, as each musician gets a turn to lead and explore within that groove. That’s followed by “Having Fun.” This track has a good amount of funk, just what you might expect from a song bearing the title “Having Fun.” The musicians seem to be enjoying the groove, and everything has a light vibe. I suspect most folks who listen to this will be having fun as well. I love Gayelynn McKinney’s work on drums. And that sax lead is seriously delicious. And speaking of delicious, check out the bass and drums at the beginning of “Gwendolyn.” So damn good! And this track just takes off from there. The whole thing is fun, but that section of bass and drums toward the end is absolutely fantastic, one of my personal favorite moments of the album. I wish it went on longer. Then we get the second cover of the album, Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” which has a laid-back vibe and features more catchy work on bass and a nice lead on piano. Ah yes, this music does indeed sound like a lovely day. And if you wish to improve your day, putting on this album is certainly one way to do that.

When I first glanced at the track list, “Peaceful Place” stood out, for it reminded me of that Grateful Dead lyric from “Throwing Stones,” “A peaceful place, or so it looks from space.” And whether Gayelynn McKinney had that line in mind or not, this track does have that sort of feel, like seeing the world as a whole and its potential for being peaceful, and letting that feeling sort of wash over you. The next line from that Dead song is “A closer look reveals the human race,” but in this piece, it seems humanity might have found a way to be in harmony with the world itself, found a way to relax. How wonderful if that could be true. That’s followed by “Just A Little Bass And Drums.” Based on that title, I was pretty sure I was going to love it. I wasn’t wrong. This is a totally cool and funky number, featuring some playful vocal work from Gayelynn McKinney as well as some great stuff on drums, and more impressive and totally fun work on bass. Plus, Rafael Statin is on bass clarinet, delivering a delicious lead in the second half. Yes, this track is another highlight for me. This music makes me happy. The album then concludes with its title track, “Zoot Suit Funk,” another fun number with a strong, prominent groove. This one might get you dancing, and includes some excellent work on saxophone.

CD Track List

  1. Stylin’
  2. Space Goddess
  3. My Love
  4. Having Fun
  5. Gwendolyn
  6. Lovely Day
  7. Peaceful Place
  8. Just A Little Bass And Drums
  9. Zoot Suit Funk

Zoot Suit Funk was released on January 15, 2021.

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