Maceo Parker at the State Theatre
Tuesday, March 4, 2008 at 05:58PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • March 3, 2008

maceo_parker.jpgIf you don't get up and start moving at a Maceo Parker concert, better check your pulse. The former James Brown sideman is one of the funkiest sax players around, and at 65 still sets crowds on fire every time he picks up his horn. An early pioneer of funk, he's gone on to play with artists from Prince to Ani DiFranco, and on Saturday night at the State Theatre in Falls Church he showed the sold-out crowd what this music looks like in the 21st century: grown-up and sophisticated, but still as dirty, sexy and hard-driving as it ever was.

And from the opening tune, "Funky Fiesta," things didn't let up for the next three hours. Drawing from his latest disc, "Roots and Grooves," Parker and his eight-piece band turned in torqued-up versions of songs like "Off the Hook" and "Uptown Up." Some worked better than others (did we really need to hear manager Natasha Maddison recite Hamlet's soliloquy during "To Be or Not to Be"?), but Parker kept the mix interesting by throwing in bluesy ballads and even channeling Ray Charles (perfect down to the Ray-Bans) in "Georgia on My Mind."

Parker's sax playing was the star of the evening; searing, punchy, it wove in and out of the groove with confident ease, never taking no for an answer. But his singing was nearly as good -- he's got a serious, lived-in voice and knows how to use it. And while Parker may not have James Brown's moves (hey -- who does?), he's a natural showman, dancing through the show and tossing in a few of Brown's shouts and yelps and even the occasional, "Good God!"

It was a spectacular performance, and Parker's band -- with turn-on-a-dime playing and searing solos -- deserves a lot of the credit.  Bassist Rodney "Skeet" Curtis and Jamal Thomas on drums laid down unstoppable rhythms, with Will Boulware and Bruno Speight filling things out on keyboards and on guitar. The horn section, featuring Dennis Rollins on trombone (with a quick guest appearance by former Parker trombonist Greg Boyer) and Ron Tooley on trumpet were brilliant, and Parker's son Corey, singing backup, showed he has the chops to build a career that could rival his father's.

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