After a trio of albums with the WDR Big Band, funk legend Maceo Parker returns to the more familiar, small ensemble terrain. It can be a challenge for any artist whose natural turf is the live arena to reproduce the same electricity in a studio settingand for almost six decades Parker has been a road animal with James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Prince, and his own bandsbut with Soul Food: Cooking With Maceo
, the seventy-seven year old saxophonist comes pretty close. Like those WDR collaborations, this outing reprises classic funk, soul and R&B hits, and whilst Parker is arguably playing it safe, there is no escaping the raw energy in these performances and the polish in the production.
Parker played on a number of James Brown's seminal '60s and early '70s albums, and if there is more than a hint of his former employer's trademark sound on the barnstorming "Cross The Track"one of the all-time funk classicsit is perhaps because Brown co-created/arranged this seminal tune for Parker's band Maceo And The Macks, in 1974. Parker is on terrific form here, his alto saxophone solo just as infectious as the booting-shaking ensemble groove. Parker puts fresh grease in the gears of "M.A.C.E.O," from the Maceo And All The King's Men album Doing Their Own Thing
(House of the Fox/Charity Records, 1970), sharing the spotlight with former Ellis Marsalis
trumpeter Ashlin Parker
Groove, as ever with Parker, is the blood in the music's veins, with electric bassist Tony Hall
(Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson), drummer Nikki Glaspie
(The Nth Power, Dumstaphunk) and guitarist Derwin "Big D" Perkins (Boukou Groove) at the core of this first-rate band. Ivan Neville
on keyboards lends an array of subtle textures, while trumpeter Ashlin Parker, tenor and baritone saxophonist Jason Mingledorff and trombonists Mark Mullins
and Steve Sigmund
trade in soulful harmonies and punchy riffs. Solos are mainly reserved for the leader, with Perkin's bluesy intervention on "The Other Side of The Pillow"which owes more to B.B. King
than it does to the Prince originaland another on Dr. John's "Right Place, Wrong Time" being notable exceptions.
Vocally, Parker's pipes are strong, punctuating The Metres' "Just Kissed My Baby" and a smoking version of Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" with James Brown-esque yelps and grunts. On "Rock Steady" and "Yes We Can Can"an Allen Toussaint
number made famous by The Pointer SistersParker's voice blends beautifully with rising neo- soul star Erica Falls. Gene McDaniels' politically barbed "Compared To What" sounds more relevant than ever in light of America's recent wars and Black Lives Matter, with Parker's voice evoking Ray Charles
, one of his primary influences.
Parker is at his soulful best on the gospel-tinged "Hard Times," most probably tipping a wink to David "Fathead" Newman
another important influencewho recorded the track in 1958. The other instrumental, "Grazing In The Grass"a Billboard number one hit for Hugh Masekela
in 1968features a chirpy solo from Parker and some sparkling keyboard work, and rounds out the album on a joyous, R&B-inflected note.
Parker shows no signs of slowing down on one of his strongest records in some years. He remains the funk lord extraordinaire and continues, undimmed by age, to spread joy. Soul food? Better believe it.
Cross the Track; Just Kissed My Baby; Yes We Can Can; M.A.C.E.O.; Hard Times; Rock Steady; Compared To What; Right
Place Wrong Time; Other Side Of The Pillow; Grazing In The Grass.
Jason Mingledorff: baritone saxophone; DJ Soul Sister, Tishi, La Shaun, Ziggy, Nikki: backing vocals.