Mention 18 or 19 year-old musicians and an image of Justin Bieber running amok somewhere may pop into your head. But Chicago-based Zaramela paints a different picture.
Granted, I don’t know everything these guys do in their spare time, but according to their manager, Mark Engel, they’re all freshmen in college – and diligent students at that. Evidently, when they want to break loose they take to the studio and stage, to the benefit of all involved. What you get from Zaramela is a mature, sophisticated, up-beat sound that belies their age.
Their musical influences are diverse: Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin, Frank Sinatra, Mozart, David Bowie. They may be young, but they didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.
Zaramela may remind you of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or even Dr. John or Al Kooper-era Blood Sweat & Tears. But this is far from a clone band. The 7-piece group employs a horn section, made up of Josh Schwartz-Dodek (alto,tenor sax), Mike Jang (baritone sax,keyboards) and Aaron Gamalinda (trumpet, trombone). The horns not only add a funky R&B feel, which helps keep the music moving, but at times they almost make the whole sound of the band. That’s how good they are.
But that’s no knock on the other band members. Far from it. The rhythm section – Inho Park on bass and Malcolm Engel on drums – cooks. Guitarist Jameson Brenner easily goes from straight-ahead rhythms to Hendrix-style comping. Lead singer Kris Hansen, who also plays trumpet, is beyond energetic, with great vocal range, transitioning from melodic rock/funk crooning to flowing rap.
Second place winners in the 2013 Chicago Music Awards in the New Artist category, Zaramela’s debut album, released late last year, is called Gumbo. That’s also what they call their musical style. Like the classic Louisiana dish, Zaramela is a spicy mix, thickened with their promiscuous musical influences. It’s a very tasty recipe.