By Ammar Kalia | Published January 2021
The nine breezy, sun-dappled instrumentals on veteran drummer Gayelynn McKinney’s aptly titled Zoot Suit Funk move from the easy-rolling melodies of opener “Stylin’,” where saxophonist Rafael Statin and guitarist Alex Anest lock in unison, to Statin’s smooth phrasings on the medium-tempo West Coast groover “My Love.”
Much like the baggy and kitsch zoot suit itself—signifier of a nostalgic jazz aesthetic—McKinney’s compositions inhabit a spacious yet artfully crafted sense of retrospective funk, with her own dynamic, Dennis Chambers-referencing style of drumming providing a rhythmic grounding. It is a perfectly satisfying blend—one that feels firmly rooted in the comforting familiarity of the past. But there are glimpses of McKinney breaking out of formulaic funk on her arrangement of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” expanding on the composition’s levity with a soaring solo from Statin, while “Just A Little Bass And Drums” manages to evoke a convincingly swampy blues feel through Ibrahim Jones’ percussive bass plucking and Statin’s lower register runs. In the context of the record as a whole, though, it is too little too late.
McKinney offers a neatly arranged and pleasing selection of songs on Zoot Suit Funk. But what the record misses is the rawness, the guttural thump and thrust of energy that makes funk so irresistible and endlessly listenable. Injecting more of that vitality would transform a largely unremarkable record into something truly worthy of note.
Zoot Suit Funk: Stylin’; Space Goddess; My Love; Having Fun; Gwendolyn; Lovely Day; Peaceful Place; Just A Little Bass And Drums; Zoot Suit Funk. (46:55)
Personnel: Gayelynn McKinney, drums, vocals; Rafael Statin, saxophone, bass flute, bass clarinet; Demetrius Nabors, keyboards; Alex Anest, guitar; Ibrahim Jones, bass; Trenita Womack, congas, vocals.