Bona fide funk is always hard to come by‚ and few contemporary musicians carry the cache of Maceo Parker‚ who participated in James Brown's groundbreaking forays into the field.
Truth be told‚ the earthy saxman should bill his shows like the most recent Higher Ground appearance as "The Maceo Parker Revue." Playing his alto only 25 percent of the time, and half of that as part of the pulsing three-piece horn section‚ he acts as master of ceremonies‚ exhorting the crowd‚ introducing individual band members into the spotlight and calling for props for the band at large (and crew and business people and venue staff…).
If Maceo weren't so naturally good-natured‚ this kind of role-playing would grate‚ but his enthusiasm is natural and therefore infectious. And‚ of course‚ if the music behind it all ever stopped for too long, attendees would more often weave toward the exits much earlier.
But that's not the case. For two hours plus‚ a comfortable-sized audience enjoyed watching‚ listening and dancing to what was happening on the stage. And some of that activity was slightly off the wall, like a recitation of Shakespeare from Maceo's manager Natasha Madison over the grinding funk of the band, after a tongue-in-cheek reminiscence of Parker's about high school.
But, as with the rest of the single set‚ it didn't matter so much where that came from as where it went -- which was deeper into a groove that‚ had the sound not maintained the broad clarity of the Rodney Curtis basslines‚ would've remained static rather than so very enlivening.
Pacing is everything with a show so well-rehearsed as Maceo Parker's‚ and it seems that's one of the main lessons he learned working for The Godfather of Soul. Solos like those of trombonist Greg Boyer were frequent‚ but not overextended. Keyboardist Will Boulware looked scholarly but played with fervor, whether on organ acoustic or electric piano.
Only one ballad appeared‚ in the form of McCartney's "My Love‚" the tender rendition of which made it sound like Sir Paul wrote it expressly for such an occasion. And neither Maceo‚ nor his backup singers Martha High and Gary "Mudbone" Cooper when they went front and center‚ overstayed their welcome. It was all about variety‚ only slightly less about the show‚ and virtually the whole set list‚ like "Pass the Peas‚" came and went in quick succession.
Given the snippet of Hendrixian wail proffered by guitarist Bruno Speight in the finale‚ more hard rock guitar would further spice up the night and mix effectively with the dollops of hip-hop tossed in ever so casually at a couple junctures. That said‚ such an inclusion would've made for a different show‚ though perhaps not a better one. It's hard to surpass having the audience chant the artist's name -- "Maceo!…Maceo!…Maceo!…" -- to entice him back to the stage for an encore.