Maceo Parker

Dial MacEo

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Undoubtedly one of the best known sax players in the history of funk, predominantly through his work with James Brown ("Play, Maceo!"), Maceo Parker has had a spotty recorded solo career. His eighth album as a band leader finds the horn honker expanding his palette by aiming his instrument at smooth jazz and rap, while inviting fans Ani DiFranco, James Taylor (?!), and Prince to add superstar spice to his soul stew. Although it's refreshing that these folks wanted to lend a hand, none of their contributions help define the album, and, in Prince's case, even waters it down. Certainly Parker doesn't need any assistance as smoking versions of the Isley Brothers' "Work to Do," the album's opening stuttering funk salvo of the self-composed "Rabbits in the Pea Patch," and "Coin Toss" (DiFranco's track) makes clear. The talented Parker, who is only slightly less adept at the flute and piano, rips into scorching solos equally as energetic as anything he did with Brown or George Clinton. Unfortunately, a shift to easy-listening fusion with treackly covers of Robert Flack's "The Closer I Get to You" and especially Paul McCartney's icky "My Love" move him into slick, supper club territory as the disc closes. His horn still sparkles, but without the deep R&B party sounds to work with, the latter part of the album sinks into formula. On the other end of the spectrum is "Black Widow," featuring Parker's son Corey rapping over a slow, sparse backing as dad plays flute in an attempt to push his musical envelope, which never quite gels. Nor does an almost unrecognizable James Taylor singing vocal harmony on "My Baby Loves You," a joyously upbeat track. By trying to touch too many bases, Maceo Parker only dilutes his most stunning attribute -- the tough, groove machine fury of his sax. That makes this another good, but not great, release from a legendary artist whose flame remains white hot, but whose albums never quite catch fire.

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