M-A-C-E-O Parker is the most iconic funk sax player of all time, full stop. He’s had a nearly 60-year career and has been on many of the most famous recordings of all time with James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, The JB’s and since the early 1990s his own albums. He’s one of those rare musicians that can go by one name only, Maceo! I’ve been a fan throughout his career and now he’s come out with his first studio album in eight years. It’s a great 10-track album with a definite New Orleans flair spanning eight covers and two Maceo originals.
He put together a veritable New Orleans all-star team to give it that full authenticity and paired them with a stellar track list that spans most of the timeline of his career. This is a terrific album and you can check out some background on the tracks and listen to each in the roundup below.
- Cross the Track (Maceo and the Macks) – Yeoow is a great start to the song and album as it jumps right in with a great horn head as expected followed by a vocal round of “You oughta get right back, tell me what it’s like across the track.” In today’s times, the sound and lyrics are as on point as they were when the song was first released by “Maceo and the Macks” in 1971. Maceo’s tonality is as good today as it ever was and his shouts, scats and vocals mark this as one of the funkiest albums you’ll hear this year. His alto solo midway shows why he’s referred to as “The Funkiest Saxophonist on the Planet.”
- Just Kissed my Baby (The Meters) – It’s great to have a bunch of New Orleans musicians together to play music from The Meters especially when it includes Ivan Neville on organ. This tune’s dripping in NoLa soul and it highlights Maceo’s vocal chops. They’re balanced nicely with his horn playing and the choral accompaniment. I’d love to see this in person as I can envision Maceo’s showmanship and style oozing out live.
- Yes We Can Can (Allen Toussaint, The Pointer Sisters) – This famous NoLa tune by the late, great Allen Toussaint was popularized by The Pointer Sisters in the 1970s and this is another classic to add to the roles. This version is slightly slower tempo than The Pointers’, but it gives Maceo air for yet another super funky alto solo midway. It’s great that he can take funk classics and remake them into his own.
- M A C E O (Maceo Parker) – Speaking of making them into his own, here’s an original classic and it starts with the signature count of his name which I’ve always loved to see live. Here, playing with an all-star cast, it’s as powerful as ever, punctuated by the great backing horn section of Jason Mingledorff, Mark Mullins and Ashlin Parker. It’s a pure instrumental and it gives a chance for the other horn players to take a solo turn and have some fun with call and response.
- Hard Times (Ray Charles, written by David “Fathead” Newman). This classic Ray Charles from 1958 is another great tune updated for 2020. This version is fully instrumental with has a sax intro compared to a keys and vocal solo of the original. It’s a hymnal to the tough times Ray Charles lived through and Maceo aptly captures the feelings of one of his heroes. I’ve been lucky enough to see him perform Ray tributes and he’s brilliant with the material. It gives Ashlin another turn at trumpet solo before Maceo comes back in to close out.
- Rock Steady (Aretha Franklin) – Here’s another 70s classic that was all over the radio in its day. The background vocals are right on to my recollection and Erica Falls, has a great exchange with Maceo. Again, the full horn section makes the one impossible to not move with. It’s amazing how fluid Maceo’s solos are and everything he touches becomes a funk masterpiece.
- Compared to What (Les McCann) – Compared to What was popularized by Eddie Harris and Less McCann on the album Swiss Movement (1971), recorded live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. As a protest song to the Vietnam War, it was a song for the ages and fits today as well in these turbulent times. This one’s an all time favorite and of course Maceo handles both the vocals and the sax sections wonderfully. The full horn section brings some new intensity to the song as well.
- Right Place Wrong Time (Dr. John) – The song selection on this album is amazing as it’s chronical of greatness. This Dr. John tune is likely embedded in everyone’s memory if you were “of age” and many younger folks who love New Orleans music. Big D gets a brief turn on soloing guitar and it’s a nice touch.
- Other Side of the Pillow (Prince) – As with the original Prince tune from the album “The Truth” in 1998, this is a very bluesy tune. The contrast is between Prince’s high, nearly falsetto vocals and Maceo’s alto/tenor raspier take. Both tunes are great and Maceo tributes another legend and does him justice interjecting another beautiful solo followed by another Big D blues solo. Maceo says this about the tune, “I am really pleased to be including a Prince song on this album. I recorded this song back in 2002 with Prince but we never got to finish it. We recorded it again freshly in New Orleans for the new album and it pays tribute to two Geniuses, Prince and Ray Charles.”
- Grazing in the Grass (Hugh Masekela) – Growing up, this Hugh Masekela classic (1968), was one of the first ubiquitous instrumentals we all listened to. An interesting side note is that the song was vocalized and popularized by The Friends of Distinction in 1969. It’s impossible not to feel good listening to this especially in the summer season. The title and melody are instantly recognizable, and the full blast horn section is a gas and a joy. Maceo’s bright bouncy solo makes it easy to daydream This is such a beautiful album end-to-end.
This album’s already in heavy rotation and I see no end in sight. It’s a great tribute to Maceo, all the musicians playing, all the musicians featured and a funk feast for everyone to enjoy.
- Maceo Parker (James Brown Band, Parliament/Funkadelic, The JBs, Maceo Parker) – sax, vocals
- Ivan Neville (Neville Brothers, Dumpstaphunk) – organ and piano
- Nikki Glaspie (Nth Power, Dumpstaphunk) – drums
- Derwin “Big D” Perkins (Boukou Groove, Jon Cleary And The Absolute Monster Gentlemen) – guitar
- Tony Hall (Dumpstaphunk) – bass
- Mark Mullins (Bonerama, Galactic) – trombone
- Ashlin Parker (Ashlin Parker Quartet, New Orleans Jazz Orchestra) – trumpet
- Steve Sigmund (Ray Charles, Quincy Jones) – trombone
- Jason Mingledorff (Papa Grows Funk, The New Mastersounds, The New Orleans Nightcrawlers) – tenor and baritone sax
- Erica Falls (Galactic, Erica Falls Band) – background vocals
- Angelamia Bachemin (The Soulkestra, Jazz Hip Hop Orchestra) – background vocals