Maceo Parker, Ashland Armory, Ashland, OR – 4/26
Photo by James Martin
Maceo Parker commanded the stage. The music was intentional, deep rhythm soul funk that got inside and shook you down, stopped to let you notice, then did it again. Directing the band with presidential hand gestures held between pressed fingertips, he cultivated a raw, funky vibe.
He began the night in a slow saunter onto stage, hands straight by his side, presenting his full drawn up figure to the crowd while his band laid down a gentle intro groove. He lifted his arms out to the sides, palms up, and invited the praise he’d already earned before playing a note. He then proceeded to show us that we didn’t come close to paying the price of admission for the funk he was about to lay at our feet and writhe up our spines.
It was a performance in the fullest sense of the word. The band was in the character of funk, wearing it full and well. The first song ended and they froze, suspended in motion. Holding a still life action figure pose past the point where it was comfortable. Past the point where the audience understood what they were looking at. Past the point when they cheered and applauded the dedicated showmanship that set a precedent for the night. They held it still, and then a little longer. Then burst. Pouring funk into the room.
Maceo held his saxophone like another man might hold his own elbow, never questioning that it’s part of his body. He played that horn with familiarity, running his fingers up and down with a funky grace. He’s known for his saxophone, and rightly so. He’s played an unparallelled, unique sound on the instrument for over 4 decades, having began his musical career in the mid-sixties playing in James Brown’s Band. He stood out as a band leader more than a saxophonist this evening. A living jazz/funk legend, wearing his suit with swagger and confidence that commanded the stage and poured into the microphone, saxophone and whatever he touched. I’d never before witnessed such a raw, steeped and seasoned professional musician get up there and own it so fully.
Directing the music became the song itself. He created lyrics in conversations with the band and audience: “Now me, now you, I’m talking to you, yelling funk, hey, yea!” The pacing of words spread thin and long between poignant pauses and intonations that have known humidity. He could have been talking about pea soup, his dirty laundry or eating music with a spoon and spitting it into the wind on Thursdays, and I would have cheered, kicked my last limb out of my chain linked clothes, drenched on the floor, and asked for more.
Rooted in the deep soul of funk and educated in jazz, the band created an atmosphere with the music. Each instrument held a layer of the whole that, when played alone in solos, still intoned the entire frequency of the band. Maceo Parker surrounded himself with a highly skilled collective of stellar musicians and singers, unprecedented in talent of their chosen mediums. The horns threw a powerful stampede of sound into the room, blowing the hair off my face in a wind tunnel of daylight from the open brass ends aimed directly at the audience. Bruno Speight, on the guitar, played sweet steps along the instrument’s arm in the high realms, plucking delicate threads with force, his face wincing as he shook out sweet resonance. The keys lashed out on their own and carried the entire caravan of funk under the exploration of notes played with intense skill on top.
The rest of the band peeled away toward the end of the set, leaving Markus Parker on the drums. Still carrying the collaborative, collective of funk, the underbelly of the music showed its face more clearly in the deep rhythm of paced percussive strokes. He played wet storms of music. I imagined the dance of settled droplets bounding in explosions of sound off the cymbals like children on a trampoline. He ran the sticks over the drumheads in the same powerful drive. Then softened his touch to play the side of the cymbal with the same explosive tempo, but in feather touches that rippled sound in skilled patience amidst the onslaught of piercing rain pouring relentlessly over the drums.
I was a spectator in awe of the power of this music, throwing my body with an attitude I’d like to see every living being wear through their days that simply says, “Ah ha. That’s right. And, hell yeah.” Not an ounce of aggression, but such power and command that we’d be throwing glass against the walls to make room for the strength of something that doesn’t need to say anything, but can talk about funk, Love or peas and earn the respect of a crowd of people all the same.