While James Brown is generally credited with redefining and re-energizing R&B and soul music in the 1960s, turning that revolutionary vision into a reality would not have been possible without the help of his creative collaborator, stage foil and right-hand man, saxophonist Maceo Parker. Like no other sax player before him, Parker stretched the potential of his instrument to unprecedented limits, exhibiting an uncanny ability to alternate the saxophone from a melodic instrument to a percussive one, and then back again, in the span of just a couple of beats, often less.
Four decades later, after recurring stints with Brown and funk titans George Clinton and Bootsy Collins in the ‘70s, and a solo career that has propelled him through the ‘80s and ‘90s, Parker’s skills are just as tight and precise as they were during those highly charged early days, and his creative audacity is equally undiminished.
The two-disc set Roots & Grooves unites this brilliant sax innovator with Germany’s renowned WDR Big Band. The album is both a tribute to R&B/soul legend Ray Charles and a showcase for Parker’s own fiery hybrid of R&B, soul and funk.
On the first disc, Parker and the band move expertly through lush orchestrations of Ray Charles classics like “What’d I Say,” “Hit the Road Jack,” “I’m Busted” and “Hallelujah, I Love Her So.” Parker’s vocals on these tracks uncannily resemble those of Charles, particularly on the ballads like “You Don’t Know Me” and “Georgia On My Mind.”
The second disc ratchets up the funk quotient by aligning Parker with bassist Rodney “Skeet” Curtis (formerly of Parliament-Funkadelic) and drummer Dennis Chambers (another P-Funk alum, currently with Santana). This second set shifts away from the classic Ray Charles repertoire and plunges into big band arrangements of some well known Parker originals: “Off the Hook,” “Uptown Up,” “Shake Everything You Got,” and the early ‘70s funk anthem, “Pass the Peas.”