Pioneering funk/soul saxophonist Maceo Parker began his professional music career in spectacular fashion as a member of James Brown’s legendary, groundbreaking 1960s recording and touring lineups. Since 1990, Parker has steadily carried on with his own busy and successful solo career—fronting sizzling-hot touring funk ensembles, recording well-received solo albums (I was a fan of Mo’ Roots and Life on Planet Groove when they were first released in 1991 and 1992, respectively) and contributing as a sideman to albums and tours by the likes of Prince, George Clinton, the Dave Matthews Band, Ani DiFranco and others. Parker’s latest release as a leader, Roots & Grooves, is a two-disc live recording that finds the funk mentor fronting the brilliantly versatile WDR Big Band of Cologne, Germany, during Parker’s European tour of February and March 2007. (The venues/locations are not specified in the liner notes.) Parker and WDR are joined on Disc 2 by bassist Rodney “Skeet” Curtis of Parker’s touring band and world-class drummer Dennis Chambers. Thematically, Disc 1 offers Parker’s tribute to the music of Ray Charles, kicking off with a bright, bouncing rendition of “Hallelujah I Love Her So.” Parker shines as lead vocalist on “Busted,” “You Don’t Know Me” and “Georgia on My Mind,” delivering impassioned performances and sounding rather like the late, great Charles himself. For “What’D I Say,” the horn section takes over Charles’ signature electric piano riff, and takes the spotlight for a round of solos and tight ensemble play. Disc 2, titled “Back to the Funk,” offers Parker’s specialty as the band throws down full-throttle, tightly arranged but eminently danceable old-school funk grooves. Chambers and Curtis seamlessly integrate with WDR, kicking the large, powerful band along (in a good way). Parker and the musicians realize that perfect funk music combination of tight arrangements over fat grooves throughout, invoking the true spirit of American-grown funk. Disc 2 comes to a rousing conclusion with Parker staples “Shake Everything You Got” and “Pass the Peas,” the latter a James Brown classic that showcases bandmembers’ prodigious soloing chops in extended-jam form. (Check out Parker and Chambers’ dialog at 7:30 into the final track.) There is much to savor here for any fan of the funk.
Must Plays: “What’D I Say” (disc 1); “Off the Hook,” “Pass the Peas” (disc 2)
Producers: Joachim Becker and Lucas Schmid. Engineer: Reinhold Nickel. Mixer: Klaus Genuit at Hansahaus Studios (Bonn, Germany). Mastering: Marko Schnieder at Skywalk Mastering (Trierweiler, Germany).