Maceo Parker, “Mother Popcorn”
September 21, 2019
Maceo Parker set the template for modern funk saxophone. if you listen to anyone who came up with him and after him- David Sanborn, Grover Washington, Arthur Blythe, the late Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett, etc.- you’ll hear his substantial influence in their sound, phrasing and melodic choices. Parker’s story is familiar to most. as James Brown’s ultimate foil, he could always be depended on to bring the serious firepower whenever he was called into battle. he had a way of weaving in and out of Brown’s screams and moans and the rhythm section’s dense funk patterns, creating a rhythmic fabric that’s as complex and powerful today as it was when this recording was made 40 years ago. this version of “Mother Popcorn” is from a television show called “The Music Scene” which aired on, of all places, ABC-TV(!) James Brown and the band, as you can see from the video clip, were as powerful and finely tuned as a formula one race car. stylistically, Parker incorporates short, jabbing riffs over an insistent 2 bar vamp played by the rest of the band. everything he does is in service of the groove. no need for screeching high notes and other histrionics that so many mistake for emotional depth. just a gritty, singing sound, subtle and complex articulation, a rhythmic counterpoint that creates friction and intensity, and simple, declarative melodic motifs that function in relation to the band as a preacher does to his congregation. as a saxophonist who puts a lot of time into learning the language of jazz, i can really appreciate how difficult it is to maintain and build interest while playing the way Parker does on this recording. yet he pulls it off with an almost casual confidence. it’s a beautiful thing to behold… the video clip is below. the solo starts at 2:52 but check out the whole thing because James Brown- wow, what a performer! his energy and force is palpable through the monitor screen. most singers nowadays can barely walk and chew gum at the same time but this man could sing, dance and conduct the band while still managing to look as cool as a summer breeze. the way Brown and Parker interact with each other, musically and visually, is deep. pure, uncut vitamin F…Solo starts at 3:00.