Roots & Grooves by Maceo Parker – reviewed by Chris Mann



Is 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 saxophone giant. 

Disc one of this set is entitled “Tribute to Ray Charles” and there is a fresh but reverential take on some true classics.   

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 song. 

Them That’s Got 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 trumpet soloist.   

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.

Uptown Up 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!! 

Off The Hook 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!



 Heads Up International – HUCD 3134 Producers – Joachim Becker, Lucas Schmid