Saxophonist Maceo Parker’s funk credentials are indisputable.
He played on many of James Brown’s most popular songs, including “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “I Got the Feelin’” and “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud.” He also played with George Clinton on Parliament’s (best, in my opinion) albums, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein and Mothership Connection. More recently, he has made guest appearances on recordings with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bryan Ferry, Living Colour, Deee-Lite, 10,000 Maniacs and Prince.
On Sunday night, Parker, who also sang and on one song played flute, brought a funked-up band — Bruno Speight on guitar, Rodney “Skeet” Curtis on bass, Will Boulware on keyboards, Parker on drums, Dennis Rollins on trombone, Ron Tooley on trumpet and the lovely Martha High on background vocals — to Campbell Hall at UCSB as part of its Arts & Lectures series, giving a nearly 2½-hour performance that convincingly proved that he is, indeed, the funkiest saxophonist on the planet.
The show opened with the feisty “Funky Fiesta” as the band accumulated, and the funky stew continued with clips of Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and Parliament’s “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” plus a “super bad” bass solo by Curtis.
In case there is any confusion, Parker made it clear that he plays funk, not jazz. He joked, “I’m not knocking jazz. I love jazz, especially when I’m reading a book or washing the car.” To demonstrate the difference, he and Boulware played a pretty cool-sounding jazz piece. He then tricked the funk-expecting crowd by singing the early Brown song “Prisoner of Love,” but pulled the plug on that. Then the band launched into “Make It Funky,” with piercing horn blasts and an amazing muted trumpet solo by Tooley.
While Parker particularly shined on saxophone, the other band members got chances in the spotlight. During “Baby Knows,” Speight played a ripping guitar solo that turned slower and more exotic before the horns came in, first gently, then for the kill. High took over lead vocals for a blistering cover of “Think (About It),” originally performed by Lyn Collins, prefacing the song for the ladies in the audience with “we’re gonna use what we’ve got to get what we want.” High was a singer with Brown for more than 30 years, bringing an even tighter connection for the band with the Godfather of Soul/King of Funk.
There was also a smoking drum solo by Maceo’s nephew, Marcus Parker, who somehow made it look easy. Incidentally, when Marcus’ father, Melvin, was asked to join Brown’s band way back when, he would do so only if Maceo could also join. During the concert, Maceo humbly said that he was “in the right place at the right time.” The rest is funky history.
There were also some more delicate — but not overtly jazzy — songs, including a classy romantic piece with the band, a piece in which the Boulware-accompanied Parker walked out into the audience while playing emotive saxophone, and a lovely mellow piece by Rollins and Boulware.
On the humorous side, Parker put on shades and sang part of Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me,” in tribute to The Genius.
Parker also led the crowd in a soulful call and response ending with “yabada-da-da-da,” which was echoed by the horns before launching into Maceo and All the King’s Men’s “Got to Getcha.”
It was such super tight funk that most delighted the audience, many of whom ended up dancing in the far aisles. As the night moved on, Parker summoned his inner Brown, calling out “ow,” “good God” and “shucks” during “Doin’ It to Death,” which features the famous lyric “we’re gonna have a funky good time.” The whole crowd finally got up and danced to the frenzied closing medley, which included bits of “Pass the Peas,” “Soul Power” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.”
Not only was the band incredibly tight and funky, but they also displayed impeccable showmanship, with coordinated steps and turns, even dramatically freezing at the end of one song.
A funky good time, indeed.
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.