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Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves

Saxophonist Maceo Parker has a 45-year recording career built upon being the ultimate sideman, especially to James Brown. Parker’s occasional solo releases have never changed that legacy, or even appeared to try to. Until now. The live double-CD Roots & Grooves showcases the saxophonist’s surprising vocals on the opening tribute disc to Ray Charles, then torches 50 minutes of funk on the closer with the Parliament/Funkadelic alumni rhythm section of bassist Rodney “Skeet” Curtis and drummer Dennis Chambers.

Germany’s versatile WDR Big Band appears on both CDs, which is less surprising on the first. An instrumental arrangement of Charles’ composition “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” featuring Parker, Hammond organist Frank Chastenier and the WDR’s 14-piece horn section, lulls the listener into a false sense of security before the shock value starts. Parker then puts down his alto sax, takes the microphone, and becomes a frontman on “Busted,” singing in tones eerily reminiscent of Brother Ray, especially in Charles’ most versatile, pre-1970 era. Parker says he started out trying to match Charles’ vocal sound with his sax, but clearly that wasn’t the end of the influence.

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