Slideshow by Jon Solomon
Maceo Parker Thursday, June 5, 2008 Boulder Theatre
Better Than: Seeing a gal wearing hot pants in a cold sweat doing it doing to death.
It’s been more than a decade since the last time I saw Maceo Parker perform, and the 65-year-old funk sax master doesn’t look any older. Seriously, the guy looks like he hasn’t aged a day; he’s just gotten funkier.
Early in the set, Parker and his stellar eight-piece band of funk veterans dug deep into James Brown’s “Make it Funky.” Former P-Funk bassist Rodney "Skeet" Curtis, who had some relatives in the house last night, locked into the groove with the drummer while Parker turned out some tasty syncopated riffing on his alto. When he was wasn’t on the sax, Parker was singing while being backed up by Martha High, a long-time vocalist in James Brown’s band, and Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, another P-Funk alumnus and member of Bootsy’s Rubber Band.
Parker, who’s the consummate showman, obviously picked up a few things from his years in James Brown band. Parker not only knows about style and charm, he knows all about dynamics, something that Brown completely mastered. Throughout the show, Parker and crew would get knee-deep in the funk and really make the music boil. But then they’d take it down, let it simmer for a bit, and then bring it back up to the boiling point.
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Everyone was fully in sync with each other, like a well-oiled funk machine. Guitarist Bruno Speight’s chucka-chucka rhythm chops were so much in the pocket. Dude was seriously on it, staying on top of the dynamics as well. It was fascinating to watch his right hand strumming the funk up on the neck.
While Parker took the spotlight quite a bit and took some extended solos, especially some fiery riffing only backed up by the drummer, he let pretty much everyone else in the band get a chance to shine as well. Keyboardist Will Boulware got a chance to show off some jazz chops, as did Speight, who played a fluid Wes Montgomery-inspired solo. Near the end of the show, High flaunted her energetic pipes on “It Takes Two.” Trombonist Greg Boyer (another P-Funk alumnus) and trumpeter Ron Tooley delivered some soaring solos as well.
About halfway through two-hour set, Parker talked over a funky backbeat about being in high school and learning about Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But instead of paying attention n class, he’d sit in the back of room with music in his head. “To be or not be,” Parker said. “I thought it meant, ‘To be or not to be funky.'” He then asked Natasha Maddison, his manager who was originally from London, to recite a bit of Hamlet while the band kept up the groove.
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Parker paid tribute to Brown with “Make it Funky,” “Pass the Peas” and bits of “Sex Machine” and “It’s Too Funky in Here.” He also gave a nod to Ray Charles, one of his earliest and most important musical influences, with a lovely but short flute rendition of “Georgia on My Mind” and sounded a lot like Charles when he sang “You Don’t Know Me” while wearing a pair of Wayfarer sunglasses.
Right after the encore, Parker and the band shook hands with folks near the stage. That’s just something you don’t see too often at shows these days. And Parker thanked everybody from the sound and light crew to the Byron Shaw Projex for opening the show. Man, Parker was incredibly gracious and just seemed like the nicest cat in the world. Well, that and he showed us that he’s still one of the funkiest dudes in the world as well.
Critic’s Notebook: Personal Bias: It was funk overload, man. Definitely too funky in there. Random Detail: I could've sworn that Parker said that Martha High was once assistant manager, among other things, for James Brown. By the Way: Parker also plays tonight at the Telluride Jazz Celebration with Bettye LaVette and Joe Lovano. If you leave this morning, you might still be able to make it in time.