There's something about the WDR Big Band of Cologne that when you see that name on a recording, you know you?re in for a treat. In recent years, this German-based ensemble has turned in some magnificent performances alongside some jazz heavyweights, including Randy Brecker and the late Joe Zawinul. Now the WDR Big Band has joined alto saxophonist and vocalist Maceo Parker for Roots & Grooves, a two-disc set recorded during a European tour in February and March 2007.
Parker was the longtime sideman to the "Godfather of Soul," James Brown. Over ensuing years, he played alongside funk masters George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, with whom he worked during the days of Parliament/Funkadelic and Bootsy?s Rubber Band. Parker has also had a substantial solo career.
Disc 1 features Parker and the WDR Big Band in a "Tribute to Ray Charles," with two of the eight tracks written by Charles. The performance begins in grand fashion with WDR's Frank Chastenier on Hammond B3 organ, sharing the spotlight with Parker on "Hallelujah I Love Her So." During one stop-time sequence, Chastenier and drummer Hans Dekker exhibit some impressive syncopation.
Parker sings and guitarist Paul Shagihara solos on the bluesy "Busted." Shagihara makes his instrument wail not unlike one would expect from B.B. King or the late Stevie Ray Vaughn. Parker also sings "You Don't Know Me," his voice evoking the spirit of Ray Charles on this and other selections.
On Disc 2, "Back to the Funk," Parker revisits some of his own music. Though the WDR horns and Chastenier remain, Dennis Chambers and Rodney ?Skeet? Curtis take over on drums and electric bass. Chambers is a P-Funk alum who has also toured with Carlos Santana. Curtis? history includes Parliament-Funkadelic and Parker's band.
"Uptown Up" largely features the WDR saxophones, with solos by Parker, Andy Haderer on trumpet and Olivier Peters on EWI, the latter offering an interesting change of pace. The ensemble takes off with "To Be or Not to Be," from Parker's School's In (MCG, 2005). This take captures the spirit of the original with Parker doubling on alto and vocals, but also allows for some improvisation. WDR's Karolina Strassmayer offers a screaming alto sax solo that could easily be mistaken for Parker.
Curtis gets downright funky on "Off the Hook," bringing to mind such bass luminaries as Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller. "Advanced Funk," another selection from School's In, again features Chastenier on Hammond B3, with a solo by John Marshall on trumpet. This is one of the stronger selections of the set.
While the two discs capture different moods, it's a no-lose situation. Parker's leads and the WDR horns make the sets powerful whether played separately or as one continuous engagement. Roots & Grooves, both the "Tribute to Ray Charles" and "Back to the Funk," offer plenty to enjoy.
Track Listing: Disc 1: 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; Disc 2: 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 (CD 2); Rodney 'Skeet' Curtis: electric bass (CD 2); WDR Big Band Cologne: Michael Albene: conductor; Frank Chastenier: Hammond B3, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, Clavinet; Paul Shigihara: guitars; John Goldsby: acoustic bass (CD 1); Hans Dekker: drums (CD 1); Andy Haderer: trumpet; Wim Both: trumpet; Rob Bruynen: trumpet; Klaus Osterloh: trumpet; John Marshall: trumpet; Ludwig Nuss: trombone; Dave Horler: trombone; Bernt Laukamp: trombone; Mattis Cederberg: bass trombone; Heiner Wiberny: alto saxophone; Karolina Strassmayer: alto saxophone; Olivier Peters: tenor saxophone, EWI; Paul Heller: tenor saxophone; Marcus Barthelt: baritone saxophone.