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Maceo Parker - Roots and Grooves

By Con Conrad

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Composed by Con Conrad, Howard Harlan, Maceo Parker, Ricci Harper, Eddy Arnold, Hoagy Carmichael, Ray Charles (1930-2004), Stuart Gorrell, Cindy Walker, Russell L. Robinson, and Percy Mayfield. Recording mediums. 2 CDs. Duration 102' 42''. MDS (Music Distribution Services) #INT 34132. Published by MDS (Music Distribution Services) (M7.INT-34132).

Item Number: M7.INT-34132

MACEO goes BIGWhile Maceo Parker is known around the world for his signature alto sax sound -- an instantly recognizable blast of rhythmically-charged, gospel-tinged soul -- he has never before been heard fronting a big band. The former James Brown sideman and P-Funk all-star rises to that challenge on Roots & Grooves, his triumphant collaboration with Germany’s WDR Big Band Cologne.Recorded live on tour in Europe, this dynamic two-CD set captures the iconic sax man in concert with the acclaimed 18-piece band, under the direction of arranger Michael Abene. “I run out of words when I try to describe exactly how good and how kid-like this project made me feel,” says Maceo. “I’m playing the same ol’ saxophone I always play but it was like a whole new adventure for me to play with a big band. And it’s very rewarding to get the kind of feedback I’ve been getting from people. We started with a blank sheet and we ended up with this whole big wonderful thing.”On the first disc, they pay tribute to Ray Charles with lush orchestrations of Charles classics like “What’d I Say,” “Hit The Road Jack,” “I’m Busted” and “Hallelujah, I Love Her So.” “This was really a dream come true,” says Parker. “As soon as I started hearing rumours that perhaps I could do some kind of big band project, my brain raced right to the Ray Charles stuff that I knew. Because I’ve always wanted to do that. And to hear those funk tunes blown up to big band proportions was really something else!” Parker’s vocals on these Charles staples are remarkably on the money and are particularly, eerily accurate on the ballads, “You Don’t Know Me” and “Georgia on My Mind.” As Maceo so humbly puts it, “I was blessed with the voice that I can sing a little bit like him.” But WDR Big Band musical director Abene maintains, “If you close your eyes, it sounds just like Ray! I didn’t realize the depth of it until we got together for rehearsals. I knew his playing, but when he started to sing it just knocked me out. I think people are going to be amazed by his singing.”The second disc, which features the slamming rhythm tandem of drummer Dennis Chambers (formerly of P-Funk, currently of Santana) and bassist Rodney “Skeet” Curtis (formerly of P-Funk and Maceo’s own band), consists of expanded big band renditions of Maceo originals, including “Off The Hook,” “Uptown Up,” “Shake Everything You Got” and his early ‘70s funk anthem “Pass The Peas.”Maceo’s pungent alto tones and sharp attack are heard prominently throughout Roots & Grooves while several members of the ensemble also step up to distinguish themselves as formidable soloists, including organist Frank Chastenier on “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” guitarist Paul Shigihara on “I’m Busted,” alto saxophonist Heiner Wiberny on “Them That’s Got,” tenor saxophonist Olivier Peters on “What’d I Say” and tenor saxophonist Paul Heller on “Hit The Road Jack.” On the funky disc 2, alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmeyer engages in some fiery exchanges with Maceo on “To Be Or Not To Be” while funk bassist extraordinaire Curtis is showcased on “Off The Hook” and monster drummer Chambers unleashes his polyrhythmic fury on a 17-minute rendition of “Pass The Peas.”Though Maceo never worked in Ray Charles’s band, there was a memorable three-week tour in 1997 when his band opened for Ray’s. “It worked out really well,” says Maceo. “And during that time I got a chance to be on stage with him for one song each night. That was like heaven for me. And when I got a chance to hang out in the dressing room with him after the shows that was priceless.”Parker’s appreciation for Ray Charles goes back to his teenaged days in Kinston, North Carolina, when he and his brothers were playing in a band together and Maceo was developing his saxophone concept. “I got into Ray at a very early age,” he recalls. “I’d listen to him sing and tried to equate that with playing saxophone.I’d think, ‘If only I can get that same soulful kind of feeling that he gets when he sings a ballad.’ That’s something that I tried to work on. I don’t know if I ever got to it, but that was the goal. I was only 16, 17 years old trying to come up with that kind of concept and it was just from listening to Ray Charles. So he’s always been the cat for me.”He recalls first encountering Charles’ music in 1959. “My two brothers and I had just come home from school and the first thing I did when we walked through the door was turn on the radio. And they were playing ‘What’d I Say.’ We heard that and started going crazy. The sound of the Wurlitzer electric piano was something new. And that call-and-response stuff he did with the, we almost tore that place all to pieces because we couldn’t believe it. I’ll never forget that day. It was like Christmas morning and New Years morning combined.”Through the influence of Charles and others, Maceo began his lifelong enfatuation with R&B and soul music. “That’s what I grew up playing in North Carolina and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “Most saxophone players coming up want to play like John Coltrane or Sonny Stitt or Charlie Parker or Cannonball Adderley. And that’s probably one of the reasons why my style was a little bit different, because I didn’t come up that way. I came up playing funky stuff -- the Meters, James Brown, Ray Charles. My saxophone heroes were Hank Crawford, David “Fathead” Newman and King Curtis, not Coltrane, Bird and Cannonball.”In 1962, Maceo’s brother Melvin was playing drums in a local group called Apex when the Godfather of Soul himself happened to catch their set after his show at the Coliseum in Greensboro. James Brown tried to hire Melvin Parker on the spot but it was not until a year and a half later, in 1964, that Maceo’s brother took him up on the offer. As Maceo recalls, “We went backstage after one of his shows and Melvin said to him, ‘Hi, Mr. Brown. Remember me? You told me about a year and a half ago that if I wasn’t in school anymore that I could have a job in your band. Well, I’m not a student anymore and I’d like a job.’ And James shook his hand and said, ‘Nice to have you aboard.’ But then Melvin said, ‘Uh, excuse me, Mr. Brown, I’d like you to meet my brother Maceo. He’s a saxophone player and he needs a job too.”Brown ended up hiring Maceo as a baritone sax player in the band, even though Parker had only played the unwieldy instrument a couple of times in high school. The first sides that he cut with that low-end horn were “I Feel Good” and “Out Of Sight.” When tenor saxman St. Clair Pinckney took ill for a couple of weeks, Maceo made the smooth transition to that horn. “I started doing some of the tenor solos and then when St. Clair came back, James had us switch off back and forth between baritone and tenor. And gradually it just evolved where he started playing everything on baritone and I started playing everything on tenor.”Maceo’s first recording on tenor sax was “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.” From 1970 to 1973, he fronted his own instrumental group, Maceo & All The King’s Men, before returning to James Brown’s band. During his second stint with the Godfather of Soul, he switched to alto sax, appearing on such James Brown hits as “Cold Sweat,” “Lickin’ Stick” and “Mother Popcorn.”Through the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s, Maceo was a featured player with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and with Bootsy’s Rubber Band while also appearing on recordings by a wide variety of artists from Prince, Limbomanias and Deee-Lite to Keith Richards, Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ten Thousand Maniacs and Living Colour. Since the early ‘90s, he has released several recordings as a leader, beginning with Roots Revisited (which spent 10 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Jazz Charts in 1990). He followed that up with 1991’s Mo' Roots and reached a wider audience with his 1992 live album Life on Planet Groove, which helped launch Maceo's touring career. He continued in this goodfoot direction on 1998’s Funk Overload, 2000’s Dial M-A-C-E-O, 2003’s Made by Maceo, 2004’s My First Name Is Maceo and 2005’s School’s In! And now he has reached an artistic summit in his career with Roots & Grooves.The key to all of his live performances, says Maceo, is love. “I started to perform and still continue to perform out of the love for the music, love for the arts, love for performing itself and a love for people. I love for people to make music that people can enjoy and that brings a smile to their faces. At all my concerts I try and say ‘love’ as many times as I can. And I think throughout the world if we can use that word as much as we possibly can it will flourish and that other negative stuff will diminish. So I’m definitely going to do what I think is my part by just showing the spirit of love throughout the world as much as I can.” (Author: Bill Milkowski)MACEO is BACK.

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