If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Maceo Parker's band perform live in concert in the past few years, then you would have certain expectations of his latest CD release, Made By Maceo (2003, What Are Records?). Maceo’s live shows are a smorgasbord of soul delivered with impeccable musicianship by his road-tested band of funky merry men. And, if you want to be a happier person, you’d do well to spend time with his catalog, from his seminal work with the JBs and Parliament Funkadelic.
Made By Maceo, however, deviates from his mantra of the last decade: “2% jazz, 98% funky stuff.” On this disc, the funky stuff is delivered at a less generous ratio. The old-school funk found in previous releases, such as Funk Overload and Roots, have been toned down in favor of a more mainstream R&B sound. Unfortunately, the production polish seems to be a getting thicker with each release. There are numerous moments, such as on “Once You Get Started,” where Maceo blows a peppery solo that would sound beautiful if left raw, but instead is washed with orchestral scenery that diminishes its impact.
The first track, “Come By and See,” suffers from grade school lyrics with little musical exploration to speak of. The second track, “Off the Hook,” partially makes up for this misstep because Maceo decides to blow a lively solo. The three-minute, 47-second tune teases with the promise of a funky jam, but the track is cut off before Will Boulware’s piano solo can deliver a payoff. I never did like recordings that fade away while the band is in mid-jam. This was usually done because record companies pushed for radio-friendly singles under five minutes. Maceo, who is listed as the producer of this album, should know better than to sacrifice a funky good time for the sake of AOL programming.
“Hat’s Off to Harry” is a sincere ode to a friend of Maceo’s, but not a particularly compelling musical piece. It delivers nice solos from both Maceo and Will Boulware but it lacks any intriguing breaks or tempo changes. “Quick Step” stands out as the true funk gem. It showcases each band member in the tradition of the JBs and reminds us that Maceo is still an elder statesman of funk.
Maceo’s son Corey Parker, who has been touring with his father’s band since 1995, contributes his rap stylings to “Those Girls.” Corey is a capable rapper whose lyrics reflect the unique upbringing of life in the Parker clan. His contributions in concert usually get the crowd very engaged. However, I found the instrumental reprise version of this song to be more enjoyable than the rap version, because the funk is unadulterated. On this album, I’ll take all the pure funk I can get.
“Moonlight in Vermont” is a mellow duet between Maceo and pianist Boulware that, for its sheer simplicity and soul, is my favorite song on the CD. The lingering notes of this pretty number demonstrate that Mr. Parker still has plenty of soul power.
Maceo has often cited his reverence for Ray Charles as a true influence in his youth. “Lady Luck” is a traditional R&B ditty in the tradition of Ray Charles where even Maceo’s singing reminds one of the purveyor of Ray’s Music Exchange.
This album features a strong supporting cast, particularly on piano and horn section. However, the varied song styles representing funk, jazz, R&B, and rap do not mesh into a satisfying whole. There are a few too many weak songs while others are buried in production polish. “Don’t Say Goodnight” exemplifies this and reminds one of generic “smooth jazz” tunes heard on the radio. As a long-time fan of Maceo Parker, this album is a disappointment because it must be compared to the rest of his catalog, including his live performances. This legacy sets a high benchmark. Maceo might have “made” this album, but I think he can make better.
JamBase | Colorado
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