In The News: Parker blends big-band jazz, funk on Roots and Grooves

Big-band jazz is funkily showcased in Roots & Grooves, Maceo Parker’s two-disc set for Heads Up. What does the album feature? And how does Parker like to get his funk on?
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Big-band jazz is funkily showcased in Roots & Grooves, Maceo Parker’s two-disc set for Heads Up.

“Whenever I had to play, they’d come up with music that suits me, my style,” funkmaster Parker, 65, said in an interview from his Kinston, N.C., home. “When you’re creating something, sooner or later you’re going to do something funky,” he says. “And once you do, somebody’s going to say, goodness, that’s funky. That sounds kind of like that James Brown stuff, and as soon as that name comes out, somebody’s going to say, ‘I wonder whether we can get that guy that worked with James Brown for so many years to come in and kind of put the lid on this thing.’ ”

That’s how Parker, a virtuoso on alto, tenor and baritone sax, has “put the lid” on recordings for artists spanning Jane’s Addiction, Ani DiFranco, Prince, Parliament — and Brown, his patron for many, many years.

Parker’s Roots & Grooves features an homage to Ray Charles on the first CD and an overview of Parker’s work on the second. It swings hard, though the drum solos are too long; backing by the WDR Big Band Cologne (which also supported Joe Zawinul on his double-CD Heads Up set, Brown Street) fortifies Parker’s fleet, soulful style. His renditions of Charles’ chestnuts like “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and “What’d I Say” are curiously faithful and fresh. And his own tunes, particularly the joyful “Uptown Up” and the novelty “To Be or Not To Be” are a blast.

Parker doesn’t speak German, “but I’m experienced enough and I travel enough to know that the world is full of great musicians,” he says. Working with the WDR band, under the direction of Michael Abene, is special. It’s a relationship he aims to pursue.

“I continue to do this out of love,” Parker said. “I just love everything about performing, about styles of music, about the saxophone, about people. When I perform for my shows live, you’ll always hear me say more than once, on behalf of all of us, we love you.”

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