Spiritual cleansing. That’s what you get at a Maceo Parker show. You come up really high. You get down really low. It’s this effortless control of energy that makes the Maceo Parker funk orchestra the most effective group of its kind. Period.
It was virtually impossible not to move.
Parker joked that he and his group get asked to play a lot of festivals, and that when they do, the “jazz” side of things is always emphasized.
“Let me show you what we do not play,” he said, as he and keyboardist Will Boulware launched into a speedy version of “Satin Doll.” He shook his head up and down, playfully mocking jazz cats as Boulware soloed. “That’s what we do not play.”
What they do play is The Funk. Sure there are solos, and everyone who actually takes a solo kills it, but that is not the focus.
Having said that, the show did open with a massive drum solo by Maceo’s nephew, Marcus Parker, but it was merely the fuze running down to spark the funk bomb. Marcus has full control of all the subtleties of his apparatus. He’s able to make each drum and cymbal speak clearly in a range of tone color and voices. He can flow in, on, and around the groove.
Marcus wrapped up the solo with a clean stop, and did a limping robot walk away from the drums. The rest of the group entered from backstage, but still no Maceo.
Then a woman came out and reved up the crowd: “Let’s have a fiesta! . . . Would you please welcome the funkiest saxophone player in the world . . . school’s in, school is in!”
Maceo came out waving and blowing kisses to each section of the crowd, before putting his horn to his face and blowing chorus after chorus of The Funk. And when the horn came out of his mouth, Maceo just kept performing, legs wiggling, arms swinging. Then the chants started. “This funk is off the hook” . . . “Papa’s got a brand new bag” . . . “Make my funk the P funk, I wants to get funked up” . . . “ga ga goo ga, ga ga goo ga . . . I’ve got no idea what it means!”
Perhaps the highlight of the evening came later on when Martha High, who had been singing backup vocals, came front and center and declared, “Hey ladies, we’re gonna use what we got to get what we want,” before launching into “it takes twoooooo/To make the thing go right.”
Maceo did his obligatory Ray Charles tribute at the end of the show, donning sunglasses and singing out a gravelly melody.
To punctuate the hard funk, the orchestra frequently broke into slower, cooler grooves, like Parker’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” during which the saxman walked up the stairs of the ampitheater, his big sound filling the Massry Center without the aid of a microphone.