by Mike Zabrin
Funktastic on WGN
MIKE ZABRIN ON VOCALO 91.1FM
Mike Zabrin is a bandleader in the grandest sense of the term. Bringing together an all-star cast of players to realize his vision, his formidable skill as a bassist comes second to his skill as a songwriter, producer and arranger. Nearly two years ago, he left the club circuit to form Mike Zabrin's Funktastic, a collective of gifted musicians including members of The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown, Kool & the Gang, Parliament-Funkadelic and Fishbone, and the group immediately delivered on its potential with Funktastic, named one of the best albums of 2014 by Funkatopia Magazine. Couple this with the fact that Zabrin, at 24 years old, is a relative newcomer, and that accolade is only made more impressive.
Tracks like the horn-driven "The Other Side" are an intoxicating blend of funk, soul and R&B, with an impassioned vocal from Parliament's Kendra Foster, while "(You Are) Extraordinary" is a hip-hop slow jam infused with modern R&B trappings. "Funkin' With You" is a percussive, propulsive jam that never loses momentum, and "Only" is a gorgeous ballad with vocals by Chicago jazz staple Sarah Marie Young. Funktastic's eclectic nature never feels scattershot, and manages to be captivating in its simplest moments as well as its busiest--not an easy feat on any album, let alone a debut.
"I spent about two years making Funktastic," Zabrin said in an interview with Jazz Corner. "When I was in music school I joined as many ensembles as I could so I was always being inspired by different musicians. I would go to school during the week, and spend my weekends recording new ideas. Sometimes I would write a melody on my bass and not think about it again. Then if I remembered how to play it a few months later, I knew that it was good enough to record. In the studio some songs started off as just a bass and drum track. I would call up musicians that I had already been gigging with to lay down parts."
Zabrin's newest single "Slice" is a decidedly jazz-influenced number, giving way to a dreamy musical soundscape before a ferocious bass-and-keys groove takes over. Zabrin's prowess as a bassist is beyond reproach, but the real magic comes in how well every instrument plays off every other, carrying the structure from one movement to another without ever losing focus. Backed by drummer Dana Thompson, keyboardist Hayden Ashley, saxophonist Bryan Fritz, trumpeter Connor Bernhard, and guitarist Jeff Swanson, the track is brimming with the energy and eclecticism Zabrin brought to his debut, condensed into a single track.
"I knew I wanted to be a musician when was 13-years-old, the day my parents bought me an electric guitar," he continued. "It's funny; I remember being in high school and being completely shocked that other kids didn't know what they wanted to do with their life." He switched to bass guitar in his high school's jazz band, and built his future from there.
The current incarnation of Mike Zabrin's Funktastic brings their undeniable talent and commanding stage presence to the Metro later this month. In addition to Zabrin, Ashley, Bernhard and Swanson from the "Slice" sessions, the current live lineup includes drummer Nathan Mark, trombonist Ron Jacoby, saxophonist Jim Schram, backup singers Morrisa C. Lewis and Dominique Christian, and powerful, ethereal vocals from Chicago soul singer Uneq'ka.
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