Altoist Maceo Parker has spent most of his career in R&B funk bands, most notably those led by James Brown, George Clinton, and Bootsy Collins. This CD gave him a chance to stretch out as a leader, and his soulful horn immediately brings to mind Hank Crawford and (to a lesser extent) Lou Donaldson. With a strong backup group that includes Pee Wee Ellis on tenor, trombonist Fred Wesley, and Don Pullen on organ, Parker enthusiastically plays over infectious grooves with just one funky departure ("In Time"). Roots Revisited is a throwback to the 1960s soul-jazz style and Maceo Parker gives one the impression that, if called upon, he could hold his own on a bebop date.
This appropriately titled two-disc set finds famed ex-James Brown horn man Maceo Parker cutting loose with Germany’s incredible WDR Big Band. The first disc features a swinging Ray Charles tribute and the second, subtitled "Back to Funk," has the alto saxophonist and vocalist taking it to the bridge on the music he is famous for. Although not known for his singing, Parker acquits himself well, especially on the Charles material, when he sounds like a gruffer version of Brother Ray. The band boasts 15 horns (five each of saxes, trumpets, and trombones) pushing hard and tight through nearly two hours of music.
“Maceo! Blow your horn!” That’s how James Brown would dynamically signal his favorite horn player to take another stinging sax solo — and Maceo Parker never once let his boss down. Parker’s jabbing workouts in the midst of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Cold Sweat” made him a household name among ’60s funk fans — not bad for a kid fresh out of college who got the gig primarily because Brown coveted his brother Melvin’s drumming chops.
Having steered the mothership and worked as a triggerman for the Godfather of Soul, storied sax man Maceo Parker now brings his own tight rhythm and soul sound to vinyl (er, plastic) in undeniable proof that he's still "got it." Combining his smoking horn with the backing of fellow legends such as trombonist Fred Wesley and new bloods such as son Corey (whose intermittent raps colorfully enhance the album's youthful vibrance), Maceo works through the familiar funk and soul lines of his Parliament and JB days and adds new twists to such classics as Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and "Inner City Blues," Stevie Wonder's "Tell Me Something Good," and Sly Stone's "Sing a Simple Song," while offering a number of his own well-orchestrated and well-seasoned compositions. "Youth of the World" features Maceo on a lead vocal reminiscent of Kool Moe Dee or Kurtis Blow, while "Do You Love Me" rises like Tower of Power before the sultry Chicago lines of closer "Going in Circles".
This is a rare kind of music film. A portrait of a musician better known as a sideman than as a star. The classic recordings of funk music pioneer James Brown are frequently punctuated with a cry of "Maceo!" which listeners often assumed to be some funky catchphrase of Brown's own invention.
Parker knows that the groove is the thing, and working the groove to death is his main goal, so being up to date, current, and innovative doesn't concern him very much, which is why School's In! sounds so wonderfully refreshing, and is arguably his most complete effort since 1992's Life on Planet Groove. Recorded in the studio with his touring band, the album has a loose, bright feel, grounded, of course, by Parker's brand of jazz-tinged soul funk.