Outside of jazz, there aren't many alto saxophone playing star-types left. In fact, aside from Maceo Parker, none come to mind. In the 1960s and '70s, Maceo was one of the central players in James Brown's JB's, and for the past couple of decades he's been keeping the fires of jazz-dosed funk burning hot. On his latest two-CD set, Roots & Grooves, alto wizard/singer Maceo joined forces with Germany's prestigious jazz orchestra WDR Big Band Cologne for a double-pronged attack. One CD is a tribute to Ray Charles, the other is all Parker-penned funk except for Brown's "Pass The Peas." Unfortunately, Roots is something of a mixed bag — the Charles tribute set features dandy sax solos and fine 'n' mellow singing from Maceo, very much in the vein of Brother Ray. But the orchestral arrangements are somewhat dated, corny, and overly slick in that old-school Vegas Rat Pack manner, indeed more appropriate for Dean Martin or Pearl Bailey. (No dis to Dino or Pearl intended.) Disc two works better. Parker's sax is in its glad 'n' greasy, blues-and gospel-charged glory here. The band is toned-down a bit, providing punchy support and following Maceo's lead. The high point is "Pass The Peas," a 17-minute workout with some delicious sax soloing (barbecue-style from Maceo, frenetic tenor from Paul Heller). In a sense, there's something for fans of retro blues and big band, yet this one is best recommended to lovers of Maceo's jazzier ventures.
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