Music News

Maceo Parker

Any discussion of James Brown's incredible talent and career will inevitably lead to headshaking disbelief at his longevity and success. But one element that is often overlooked by those who subscribe to the King James version is that JB has always stood in front of the hardest working band in show business. To claim membership in James Brown's musical circle is to be forged in the crucible of funk. Some of the finest players in the genre have had their chops smoked, sauced, and grilled to perfection in the soul kitchen of the Godfather.

Saxophonist Maceo Parker was always one of the long-time foundations of Brown's funkhouse, a brilliant player who did time with every major influence in the soul and funk arena, including George Clinton, Fred Wesley, and Bootsy Collins. After taking an enormous amount of time away from recording to tour steadily, Parker finally slowed down long enough to book some studio time and produce his first solo recordings since his decidedly jazz-tinged works in the early '90s. So far his triumphant return to the studio has yielded two spectacular discs, 1998's Funk Overload and his brand new dazzler, Dial: Maceo.

Parker is adept at writing great material; he doesn't merely have a knack for interpreting. His covers of Isley Brothers ("I've Got Work to Do") and Prince ("The Greatest Romance Ever Sold") tunes are matched step for funky step by his deep-fried originals ("Rabbits in the Pea Patch," "Homeboy"). Sometimes the jazzy undercurrent of covers like the Roberta Flack hit "Closer I Get to You" or Paul McCartney's "My Love" give Dial: Maceo a smooth jazz veneer, but closer inspection reveals just how hard these players actually swing. Some of the brightest moments are during Parker's full-blown workouts, especially the back-to-back wonders of "Simply Tooley" (a style duel between Parker and trumpeter Ron Tooley) and the propulsive "Latin Like."

Although guest stars abound on Dial: Maceo (Ani DiFranco on "Coin Toss," James Taylor on "My Baby Loves," Sheryl Crow on the blistering bonus track "Baby Knows"), it is Maceo's band, particularly the gifted rhythm section of bassist Rodney "Skeet" Curtis and drummer Jamal Thomas, that carries the day. Two other standouts include Parker's own son Corey, who contributes vocals, and Hammond B3-er Will Boulware, who brings a Richard "Groove" Holmes buzz to the proceedings. Whether your personal listening commitment features funk with traces of jazz or vice versa, Parker consistently assures there's plenty of room for everybody at his musical table.

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Brian Baker