Zak and his members of the soul and jazz band Zbonics stay busy. Saxophonist, flutist and vocalist Karl Denson recently cut an album with the group that he is mostly closely associated with - The Greyboy Allstars. That album, Inland Emperor dropped in April. SoulTrackers might recall that Denson released a great record, Brother’s Keeper, with his own band, Tiny Universe, in 2009.
Gregory Porter does the singing on the Zbonics’ Time to Do Your Thing, and need I say more. I will, in fact, say more. Anybody who heard Denson sing on Brother’s Keeper knows that a vocalist has to have game in order to keep Denson on the horns. Porter, who contributed his vocals to five of the albums 14 tracks, is such a talent. No less than Wynton Marsalis thought so, and that’s why the trumpeter tapped Porter to sing the part of Juba when Jazz at Lincoln Center’s reprised the Pulitzer Prize winning jazz oratorio, Blood on the Fields, in February. Porter’s new record, Liquid Spirits is due out later this year.
Zbonics has another tie to The Greyboy Allstars in the form of Zak Najor, who was the drummer of the Greyboy Allstars at that band’s inception. Zbonics is Najor’s creation and this outfit has just dropped its latest, Time to Do Your Thing.
Music fans familiar with the Allstars or Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe will connect to the brand of funk and jazz that Zbonics delivers on Time to Do Your Thing. “Scone Break” harkens back to a time when electric organ players such as Gene Harris and Jack McDuff brought soul-jazz to the mainstream. Denson blows a mean sax on the title track – number that also has a psychedelic retro feel. In this case, the band channels 1970s funk/jazz/soul fusion.
The drum jazz jam “Zak Attack” allows the Zbonics’ fearless leader to stretch out a little, while “Catching Sparks” is a Wes Montgomery influenced valedictory for funky guitarist Melvin Sparks, who died in 2011.
Porter continues to expand his musical palate on Time to Do Your Thing. He moves from an amalgamation of funk and jazz on the inspirational “Nowhere To Hide,” to an up-tempo dance tune on the funky “She Danced Across the Floor.” Porter pays homage to his parents on the soulful, mid-tempo cut “Issues of Life” (fans will also find that track on Liquid Spirits). Porter then expresses frustration over a scheming lover on the bluesy “She’s Gone.” The following song, “Just In Time,” is a stank funk ballad that is just pleading for some radio play. This track is the ying to the yang of “She’s Gone.” Porter finds himself counting the hours until his lover returns to him on this sensual number that sports a thumping bass line and some kicking drums.
Listeners should resist the temptation to view Time to Do Your Thing solely as a retro piece. The numbers run the gamut. Yeah, the brassy number “Wash Cloth” might make you think of the Jazz Crusaders. However, the aforementioned “Just in Time” is high quality contemporary R&B. The album’s expansive palate might prompt some of the more artsy types to call this Time to Do Your Thing a mind-expanding trip. Highly Recommended.