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Gayelynn McKinney: Zoot Suit Funk (Beatstix)

A review of the Detroit-based drummer's third album with her band the McKinney Zone

Cover of Gayelynn McKinney album Zoot Suit Funk
Cover of Gayelynn McKinney album Zoot Suit Funk

With an album title like Zoot Suit Funk, Gayelynn McKinney makes her aim clear. There’s hardly a tune here that doesn’t give you the urge to bob your head; the music is pure ear candy for anyone who loves the fusion of up-tempo jazz with funk.

A go-to drummer in Detroit, McKinney is a member of the all-female, Grammy-nominated Straight Ahead and has performed with Benny Golson, Roy Ayers, Barry Harris, and Chaka Khan, among many others; she was also Aretha Franklin’s longtime drummer. This is the third album she’s recorded with her own band, the McKinney Zone, mixing the grit of R&B with her straight-ahead pedigree.

The album’s opener, “Space Goddess,” is full of futuristic undertones and swing, driven by McKinney’s signature heavy backbeat. From there we’re taken through a number of moods, from a cheery, inspirational version of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” led in part by saxophonist Rafael Statin to the sexy R&B groove of Jill Scott’s “My Love.” McKinney’s diversity of experience makes it easy for her to inject jazzy flair into soulful compositions.

What makes this album stand out, aside from McKinney’s rhythmic prowess, is the band, all of whom hail from the Motor City: Statin, bassist Ibrahim Jones, guitarist Alex Anest, keyboardist Demetrius Nabors, and percussionist Trenita Womack. Longtime collaborators of McKinney’s, they have an undeniable chemistry that comes across on every track.

Veronica Johnson

Veronica Johnson is a freelance music writer from Detroit. She has written for Detroit-based publications Metro Times, Real Detroit Weekly, Model D, and The Michigan Historical Review, as well as the national jazz site The Jazz Line. Her work on Detroit hip-hop was published in the 2014 book A Detroit Anthology. She is also a board member of the Detroit Sound Conservancy, a grassroots Detroit music preservation organization.