Roots & Grooves by Maceo Parker –
reviewed by Chris Mann
there anyone who hasn’t heard the distinctive sax sound of Maceo
Parker on countless records, from James Brown’s “Grits and Soul” in
1964, through Parliament/Funkadelic projects too numerous to mention,
right up to Prince’s “Planet Earth” in 2007?
Maybe like me you identify Maceo by his sublime,
cutting alto sound but his extensive list of credits includes sessions
on baritone sax, tenor sax and flute! Even after the research I did
before I wrote this review this 2008 release, Maceo’s first for Heads
Up International, had surprises in store for me.
Maceo hooked up in 2007 with Cologne’s WDR Big Band to
make a live recording which would show two distinct faces of this
Disc one of this set is entitled “Tribute to Ray
Charles” and there is a fresh but reverential take on some true
The brassy, sassy opener Hallelujah I Love Her So
sets the tone and it really is a thrill to hear that alto soar above
the big band. The Hammond B3 solo is passionate and Maceo sounds like
he’s going to jump off the stage when he comes blazing back in. The
crowd’s appreciation is obvious. Then the real surprises come – on
the bluesy Busted, not only is there a gritty vocal by Maceo
himself, but the resemblance of his voice to that of Ray Charles is
marked. Paul Shigihara’s blues guitar lends a lovely touch to this
has a gentle swing and features a really lovely trumpet solo and is
the kind of big band jazz that I could listen to all night. Maceo
carries the melody strongly on alto. Any jazz station which seeks to
promote big band jazz should be playing this. The plaintive You
Don’t Know Me lets Maceo shows how passionate and bluesy he can
get on the mike, then he makes that sax cry – this song is a grower
and it’s very emotional.
You’d expect Hit The Road Jack to swing like
crazy (and it does) and Maceo seems to be really enjoying himself on
vocals. It’s for sure he’ll have enjoyed Paul Heller’s burning tenor
sax solo as much as I did. On his spoken intro to the pretty
Margie, Maceo explains how the live set will change later (on what
we’ll hear as disc two) and dedicates the song to the wife of the
You know what to expect from Georgia On My Mind
too. You won’t be disappointed. Maceo’s soulful vocal is very strong
on this bluesy slow number and when he explores the upper part of his
range, you’ll be surprised. Frank Chastenier’s dreamy Rhodes solo
takes you somewhere else – bliss. The rousing What’d I Say?
perfectly supports the statement that Ray Charles was one of the
founding fathers of soul music. This R&B romp really swings along and
it’s a party – for everybody. The band is rocking and the horn
players are trading licks. Then there’s Maceo, inciting the crowd to
get up and dance and sing to the point where they don’t want him to
leave the stage. Listen to this and you will hear why.
Disc two of this set is entitled “Back to Funk”
and sees drummer Dennis Chambers and bassman Rodney ‘Skeet’ Curtis
providing the grooves, still with the sparkling WDR Big Band behind
them. The songs are all taken from Maceo’s solo albums.
is the opener and the deep groove and brass stabs will get your head
nodding from the start. I’ve even just been typing in time to the
music – it’s that funky! I’m back in 1977 when I hear To Be Or Not
To Be – it’s slippery and the Chambers/Curtis funk machine is
churning. Maceo’s alto yells out and it’s like I’m hearing him on “Do
That Stuff!” from Parliament’s superlative “P. Funk Earth Tour” all
over again! Oh my Lord!!
is just that. It’s full of horn lines winding around a crisp groove
and a lovely retro organ. I love the chants and yelps – this is old-skool
funk as very few can deliver! The organ provides a nice accent on
Advanced Funk, which to me is anything but advanced – it’s a nice,
in-the-pocket, brassy workout with hints of 12-bar blues in there.
Flowin’ like water…
It’s hard not to obey when the bass intro is followed
by Maceo inciting the crowd on Shake Everything You Got. Those
lucky enough to be there are loving it. If you know the J.B’s music,
you’re sure to know Pass The Peas which stretches out here to
an 18-minute jam. It really gets the crowd crazy, especially when
Chambers takes the tempo right down and then starts playing off the
beat, punishing the kick drum, then locking back into the groove and
finally playing layers of conflicting rhythms that, to my mind,
shouldn’t be humanly possible. Very tough drumming, within the grasp
of only a handful of players. By the time he’s done, you have just
enough breath left for one last chant! “Pass the peas, like they
used to say”.
This brilliantly-recorded CD shows us several sides of Maceo Parker.
He tips his hat to the genius and early inspiration that was Ray
Charles, steps forward as a vocalist with feeling and blues in his
soul, then grabs you by the scruff of the neck and makes you dance in
a way that only funk ‘royalty’ can do. He was inspired by a legend,
he has worked with legends – he is a legend!
Up International – HUCD 3134 Producers – Joachim Becker, Lucas Schmid