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Maceo Parker: School's In

Woodrow Wilkins By

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Shakespeare was never so funky. "To Be or Not to Be, Maceo Parker's funky tribute to the playwright, is an attention-getting opener to School's In, a curriculum of funk education. And who better to do it than Parker? Over the course of his career, this alto saxophonist, percussionist, and vocalist worked with the Godfather of Soul in the 1960s and the masters of 1970s funk, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, among others.

Parker was born in Kinston, North Carolina. His uncle, who headed a local band called the Blue Notes, was Parker's first musical mentor. Parker and two brothers then formed the Junior Blue Notes. That ensemble, performing some nightclub engagements, led James Brown to discover Parker and his brother, Melvin. Brown was so impressed by Melvin's drumming that he promised to give him a job, if the drummer refreshed his memory. Melvin did, and Brown hired the brothers. "Maceo, I want you to blow! became a staple of Brown's performances. Parker later worked with Clinton, Collins, and their various incarnations of Parliament and Funkadelic. In addition to his solo career, Parker has collaborated with such artists as Ray Charles, James Taylor, De La Soul, the Dave Matthews Band, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Parker is now a master of jazz-funk education. Complemented by the dynamic electric bass of Rodney "Skeet Curtis and a slick horn section, the saxman delivers a playful album of eight original songs, plus covers of "ABC and "What a Wonderful World. Vocalist Corey T. Parker joins the ensemble for "What You Know About Funk? With the leader's sax and the horn section adding exclamation points at the appropriate times, he raps, "If hip-hop were a tree, funk would be at its roots, and later says, "When you run up on this unit that care about the music and not the fame, who you gonna blame?

Tracks like "ABC and "To Be or Not to Be do have some light vocals, but the real lesson on these songs is the instrumental portion, led by Parker's sax. "ABC runs a little over eight minutes, giving him plenty of time to break down the lesson. If that is general study, "Speed Reading (It-si-bi-ya) is a pop quiz. The band really smokes—not in the boys' room—on this track. The song shifts gears at about the 3:40 mark, where the music slows and Parker utters, "School's out. Then, seconds later, he says, "The bell rang; school's back in, and the band kicks into overdrive. "Arts & Crafts is the jazziest track on the album. Featuring a solo by trombonist Greg Boyer, it's a moderately paced lesson on creativity.

In the liner notes, funky is defined as coming "from 'funk,' meaning happy music. That's what School's In is all about. A little bit of education about how funk—particularly how the bass was played—influenced today's hip-hop, but taught in a delightful manner. Indeed, Parker and his band make learning fun.

Track Listing: To Be or Not to Be; Basic Funk: 101; What You Know About Funk?; ABC; Song for My Teacher; Speed Reading (It-si-hi-ya); What a Wonderful World; Arts & Crafts; Advanced Funk; I

Personnel: Maceo Parker: alto saxophone, vocals, percussion; Ron Tooley: trumpet; Greg Boyer: trombone; Morris Hayes: Hammond organ, keyboards; Bruno Speight: guitar; Rodney

Title: School's In | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: BHM Productions

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