Maceo Parker’s appearance at Massry Center started 15 minutes late. I’d ascribed that to a serious amount of walk-up action at the box office, and that did happen. The real reason, though, was trumpeter Lee Hogans and backup vocalist/Maceo’s son Corey Parker were driving to the gig from Philadelphia, where their flight had been diverted due to bad weather. But even though Maceo was playing short-handed, that wasn’t going to stop the former James Brown sideman from funking up the Massry Center.
After a terrific introduction from nephew/monster drummer Marcus Parker and a short warm-up from what remained of the band, Maceo got himself a standing ovation just by walking on stage. Decked out in a grey suit with black shirt and tie, Parker put his alto sax to his lips and gave us what only can be described as a musical review of his resume: He blasted us with a taste of his sax skills, did a dead-on version of Brown’s iconic dance shuffle, sang a couple of bars of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, and went right back to blowing the house down. He also trotted out a sample of “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)”, reminding us that Parker was also part of Parliament/Funkadelic, arguably the greatest funk band in the universe. His sample included a wordless vocalization he credited to P-Funk mastermind George Clinton. “I don’t know what it means,” he admitted, arms out to his sides, but his grin said he sure liked it.
Although this band plays on the jazz festival circuit, Parker wanted to make it clear that jazz was “not what we do.” Then he demonstrated what it was he “does not do” — first by vocalizing a stereotypical jazz figure, and then doing a hilarious impression (complete with bird-like head-bobbing) of every Charlie Parker wannabe you’ve ever wanted to hit in the head with a frying pan. The impression got a great assist from keyboardist Will Boulwere, who was Parker’s willing foil when he wasn’t churning out spicy organ and Fender Rhodes solo. Parker asked us all night long to give the band some love, but his affection for Boulwere as a player and a person was more than evident.
Now, jazz may not be “what he does”, but he can certainly play it, as he and Boulwere demonstrated with a beautiful duet medley of “Alfie” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Parker played most of the medley un-mic’ed while walking through the crowd, and he didn’t lose one ounce of power or expression. He also did fast takes on “The Look of Love” and “O Tannenbaum,” and when Hogans and Corey Parker finally made the gig, Maceo pulled out a knockout version of Paul McCartney’s “My Love,” eschewing any part of the original melody so he could cook up his own. Hogans made up for his absence by hitting the trumpet solo out of the park. Hogans’ tone was clean and sharp, and makes a nice contrast to Parker’s gritty alto.
Although his preferred sax attack is meat-and-potatoes R&B – a lick here, a lick there, and then one long blast that’ll curl your hair – Parker’s interpretive skills are just as deadly as his affinity for impersonations. During the set, he did dead-on impressions of Muhammad Ali and Ray Charles, the latter during a picture-perfect take on “You Don’t Know Me.” Obviously he does a great James Brown, but then almost everyone can do James Brown… or, at least, Eddie Murphy doing James Brown. If this music thing doesn’t work out, Parker could have a hell of a career on the comedy-club circuit.
At the end of the day, though, what Parker does is play out-and out adrenaline soaked funk, designed for nothing but getting your dance on. The band might still have been out-shouting Maceo’s vocals, but there isn’t a band in the world loud enough to drown out his alto when he’s blowing it up. Give him a groove and he will pull you put of your seat, so don’t even try resisting. At one point, an ex-toddler who hasn’t learned to dance yet expended his new-found energy by running back and forth in front of the stage, breaking Parker up when he saw the blond cherub frolicking around. And when Parker had his full band together, the concert found a new gear and a new altitude. It also got a youthful infusion from Corey Parker, who’s got Maceo’s looks and charisma combined with a booming singing voice and knife-sharp rap style. When he took over lead-vocal chores, Parker teamed up with Hogans to make a bodacious front line. Backup vocalist Martha High benefited from that line when she stepped out front for the scalding “Think/It Takes Two.”
It all ended with a mind-blowing take on the NOLA anthem “Hey Pocky Way”, followed by Brown’s electric classic “Get On Up,” which is exactly what we did. Anything complicated or contrary to having a great time was long gone, or waiting for us out on the rain-soaked streets. And it could stay out there, because we were too busy having fun. A friend of mine once described a Christian McBride disc by saying, “Sometimes it’s just about shaking your ass!” That’s all that can be said about Maceo Parker’s music. Well, that and it’s a rocking good time!
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Jeff Waggoner’s review at Albany Jazz
Rudy Lu’s photographs at Albany Jazz
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Parker is also an entertainer. He shuffles with his feet, he dances with his arms, the entire band will stop short at a climax and physically freeze on stage for 15 seconds for effect. They play with drama and humor. Parker would mumble into the mic like James Brown, then convulse to a ‘ha!’ a few times, then mumble some more. One verse went ‘time and time again I feel the need to go “HA.”‘ When others soloed, Parker stood center stage and performed a full body dance.”
Will Boulwere: keyboards
Lee Hogans: trumpet
Rodney “Skeet” Curtis: bass
Bruno Speight: guitar
Marcus Parker: drums
Corey Parker: vocals
Martha High: vocals