Maceo Parker Finds His Funk Groove

The former James Brown sideman got the Pittsburgh crowd dancing at Mellon Jazz Festival performance.

PITTSBURGH — Funk filled the air with a joyful cacophony as saxophonist Maceo Parker and his ensemble performed Saturday at Hartwood as part of the 14th annual Mellon Jazz Festival.

"Good God!" Parker shouted to the audience as he took the stage. "It's going to be funky here tonight. Everything we do from this point on will be funky."

At first, it seemed as if the thick, black blanket of clouds that had formed over the park might deny the former James Brown sideman the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the large, sprawling crowd.

But rain never materialized, and the clouds gave way to clear skies — and so much groove-laden music that even the dogs roaming the grounds appeared to fall under its spell.

Parker's band immediately launched into "Pass the Peas," which Brown made famous. When the group played "Rabbits in the Pea Patch," from Parker's current album, Dial: Maceo, the crowd began to dance, getting into the particular kind of party groove that funk inspires.

Just when the pace started to accelerate too much, Parker shifted gears, letting the funk simmer through a medley of songs, including a vocal rendition of Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind." Midway through the performance, Parker's son, Corey Parker, stepped to the forefront for some hard-boiled rap. The younger Parker demonstrated that he's inherited his father's flair for entertaining an audience.

The band played "I've Got Work To Do" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Black Widow" (RealAudio excerpt), charging the two songs with a hybrid of funk and soul, blending blues and hip-hop beats.

But "Elephant Step on My Foot" and "Shake Everything You Got," from 1992's Life on Planet Groove, got the fullest expression of the hard-driving funk that has come to characterize a Parker performance.

Before Parker's set, University of Pittsburgh jazz-studies director Nathan Davis & Tomorrow got the crowd pumped with rhythmically charged arrangements by such jazz greats as Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter.