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Extended Analysis

Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves

By Published: January 18, 2008
Maceo Parker
Roots & Grooves
Heads Up International

In jazz, the term "swing" is used to describe that special "thing" that makes jazz jazz. Elusive to definition, swing may best be thought of as that physical propulsion providing the music momentum from one bar to the next. Or as critic Martin Williams wrote more poetically, "any two notes played in succession by (bassist) Paul Chambers." "Funk" is another word in jazz that is perhaps easier to demonstrate than define. If Williams were here today to address funk, he might say, "Funk is any two successive breaths expelled by Maceo Parker through his alto saxophone."

Parker's funk bona fides are impressive—he shared the stage with the late James Brown from the early 1960s to the singer's death on Christmas Day, 2006 and as part of George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic and Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band. Parker led a series of solo recordings, culminating in his sizzling live set Life On Planet Groove (Verve, 1992), that well foreshadow the music he makes on Roots & Grooves.

Roots & Grooves finds Parker fronting the superb WDR Big Band Cologne, conducted and arranged by Michael Abene, during his 2007 European tour. The show is divided into two parts, the first showcasing Parker's tribute to the late Ray Charles (1930-2004) and the second focusing on Parker's own brand of funky R&B derived from his solo career, spanning from the 1970s to the present.

Almost three years after Charles' death, Parker pays the most successful and fully conceived tribute to the creator of rhythm and blues, winding his way through eight Charles classics. The disc opens with an incendiary instrumental take on "Hallelujah I Love Her So." Here Parker sets the pace of the recording over Michael Abene's cracking arrangements with his tart alto saxophone. As fine as Parker is, it is Frank Chastenier's Hammond B3 that tears the house down before rebuilding it in the image of Ray Charles.

Parker not only plays but sings on several numbers. Parker's voice is perfectly suited to the material, not being a mere imitation of Charles but a loving tribute to him. "Busted," "You Don't Know Me," and "Hit The Road Jack" demonstrate the grace emoted in song by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, and James Brown and now, Maceo Parker, a grace fully formed when first delivered, not wrought from practice but experience. "What'd I Say closes the tribute with Parker's distinctively soulful voice.

Parker uses the Ray Charles tribute to bring his performance to a simmer, enabling his Back To Funk concert section to explode in a full boil, in the words of John Lee Hooker, "Pots on, gas on high." The tight fit that James Brown required of his band is burned indelibly in the rhythm of Maceo Parker. "Uptown Up" erupts from the band providing Parker, trumpeter Andy Haderer and EWI-player Olivier Peters ample solo room. The funk deepens with Parker's 2005 workout "Schools In." Parker allows the two most important funksters, bassist Rodney Curtis and drummer Dennis Chambers, to define funk on "Off The Hook" and the Parker standby, "Pass The Peas."

This release begs and answers the question, "what is Maceo Parker's legacy?" Where Charlie Parker influenced the likes of saxophonists Frank Morgan, Phil Woods, Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, and Julian Adderley, Maceo Parker put his stamp on others like Dave Sanborn, Tom Scott, Junior Walker, Hank Crawford, Eddie Harris, and the entire Tower Of Power horns. This music may not be as technically challenging as bebop but it sure is a hell of a lot more fun.

Tracks: CD1: Hallelujah I Love Her So; Busted; Them That's Got; You Don't Know Me; Hit The Road Jack; Margie; Georgia On My Mind; What'd I Say. CD2: Uptown Up; To Be Or Not To Be; Off The Hook; Advanced Funk; Shake Everything You Got; Pass The Peas.

Personnel: Maceo Parker: alto saxophone, vocals; Dennis Chambers: drums; Rodney Curtis: bass; The WDR Big Band Cologne, conducted by Michael Albene.

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