Friday, February 15, 2008
"Roots & Grooves"
Maceo Parker is not the best sideman in music. But he is the most important one.
In his 40-plus years on the stage - first backing James Brown and George Clinton, then breaking down and breaking out their most famous tunes for himself - Parker has never been the most technically adept alto saxophonist, and his own band members have the tendency to show him up with the virtuosity of their solos.
Parker is the leader because he understands funk. He helped invent it. And it comes out with every repeated riff and squealed note, everything that sounds more like a sexed-up breathless rant than a carefully planned improvisation.
On the double-CD "Roots & Grooves," Parker teams up with Germany's WDR Big Band, paying tribute to Ray Charles on the first disc and to his own funky invention on the second (including an 18-minute rendition of "Pass the Peas," a song Parker didn't write but has single-handedly made a standard for high school jazz combos everywhere).
There's not one new song on "Roots & Grooves." These are the same tunes that Parker has been recording since 1992's "Life on Planet Groove" - a live album that, especially on tracks such as "Georgia On My Mind," has too much raw emotion to be outdone by the big band swagger of "Roots & Grooves."
But there's still enough power in Parker's grunts, groans and squeaking saxophones that even recycled tunes (especially standout tracks "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and "Shake Everything You've Got") are a welcome contribution of distilled soul from one of the few active performers who really understands it.
Nada Surf's fifth studio effort, "Lucky," is not bad. It's just boring.
A band that has been crafting melancholy soft pop for most of this decade, Nada Surf continues to shape its tunes on pretty (but dreary) melodies and mildly hopeful lyrics.
Opening track "See These Bones" is aptly self-aware (and aptly dragged into a hard-to-pin-down sadness by Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard), and acts as a marker for how the rest of the album will move.
"Lucky," like "See These Bones," is plenty pleasant, but it's also ignorable.