Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review of Bass Phenom Mike Zabrin’s Debut Album Funktastic

There is a dynamic new artist on the scene whose talents can’t be ignored, and his name is Mike Zabrin. The Chicago-based bassist and producer is one of the most gifted young musicians to emerge in the R&B/funk arena in quite some time. In May of this year, Zabrin released his debut album, Funktastic, which has been creating quite a buzz—garnering praise from noted music publications and capturing the imagination of jazz, R&B and funk lovers around the world. The 11-track collection is a rich gumbo of jazz, soul, funk and R&B with a dash of hip hop thrown in the mix; and it showcases the 22-year-old’s prodigious skills as a bassist.

Funktastic features a distinguished lineup of special guests, including P-Funk vocalist/songwriter Kendra Foster; bassist extraordinaire and Fishbone co-founder Norwood Fisher; and Kool & the Gang horn players Clifford Adams (trombone) and Michael Ray (trumpet). Other musicians who appear on the album include members from the bands The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band and Sun Ra Arkestra. It’s a testament to Zabrin’s considerable chops as a musician and sterling rep among his fellow musicians that he was able to round up such high-caliber talent for his debut album.

Funktastic is filled with strong tracks, which showcase Zabrin’s flawless bass-playing and impressive production skills. The album has a fluid, cohesive flow, with the tracks nicely complementing one another.

The album kicks off with the mellow neo-soul track "(You Are) Extraordinary,” which features a dope rap from Chicago MC Rico Sisney. And trumpeter, singer-songwriter Sam Trump’s rich, soulful vocals add so much to this track.

“(You Are) Extraordinary” is followed by the breezy R&B cut “Life.” Singer/songwriter Anthony Pavel delivers a stellar vocal performance on this track.

Another great song from the collection is the infectious “Young Can Count on Me.” Vocalist Rachael Wogsland’s irresistibly sassy vocals really bring the track to life.  And the groove is accentuated by the lively horn parts, which are provided by Bryan Fritz (tenor sax), Kyle Miller (trumpet) and Norman Palm (trombone).

And P-Funk songtress Kendra Foster serves up an exquisite vocal performance on the majestic “The Other Side.” This gem of a track features a terrific trombone solo from Kool & the Gang’s Clifford Adams. The other horn players featured on the track are Greg Howell (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band) on baritone sax and trumpet player Michael Ray (Kool & the Gang and Sun Ra Arkestra).

And of course there is plenty of great funk to be found on this album, such as the terrific funk/jazz fusion cut “Fact Fiction.” Zabrin delivers a masterful bass performance here. His playing is absolute fire—slappin’ and poppin' like nobody’s business on the funk sections and then gettin’ busy with some deft soloing on the Latin jazz sections. Norwood Fisher brings some humor and fun to his lead vocals. Guitarist Justin Canavan keeps things nice and funky with some dirty chicken-scratch licks. And the tight horn lines augment the groove considerably. The brass on this track is provided Bryan Fritz (tenor sax), Ryan Nyther (trumpet) and Ron Jacoby (trombone).

The funk continues with the wicked groove “Funkin’ With You.” The track features some virtuosic bass work from Zabrin, and Paul Goldman deepens the funk with a smooth keyboard solo. And vocalist Kelsey Madsen brings the fire with a gritty vocal performance.

Another excellent track that features Madsen on vocals is the soothing soul ballad “Cat & Mouse.” The singer delivers a superb vocal performance on this track. Her vocals are bursting with passion and sultry soul and are a bit reminiscent of another talented soul singer: Joss Stone. And Zabrin lets loose with a fantastic bass solo near the end of the song.

And Zabrin brings some more heavy-duty funk on the percolating “Make Yah Body Move.” Once again Zabrin’s bass work is impeccable. The monster groove boasts a super-tight horn arrangement and some terrific drumming from Keith "Keke" King.  The track features G-mar Willis and Elli Sutter on vocals.

The album closes out on a funky note with the instrumental “What’s The Deal?” Bryan Fritz contributes a sizzling sax solo on this very funky cut. This bumpin’ groove will definitely have you bobbin’ your head.

Funktastic is an extremely impressive album debut. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience, and each track is quality—there's not a lemon in the bunch. This collection is a must-have for funk, jazz, soul and R&B aficionados or people who just love great music. Zabrin really delivered with his aptly titled debut album.

Zabrin is currently a member of the Joe Moss Band, a badass blues outfit. Funktastic is available on CD and digital download. Visit his site to purchase the album or for info on upcoming tour dates for the Joe Moss Band.

"Funkin' With You" by Mike Zabrin

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