The Savannah Music Festival ended with a “funky good time” on Sunday with legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker and his Funky Dance Party at the Charles H. Morris Center.
Parker’s renowned saxophone and flute were joined by a large entourage including guitar, bass, trumpet, trombone, keyboard, drums and back-up vocals. Parker and his “greatest little funk orchestra on Earth” quickly began funneling a smorgasbord of sounds, incorporating funk, jazz, blues, bebop and soul into one unified melody.
Parker’s powerful, deep vocals sometimes suddenly shot up into a high-pitched be-bop squeal, creating a diverse and lively rhythm to accompany his sax.
The night included all of the old favorites, encouraging life-long and newborn fans to sing along to hits such as “Make it Funky,” “It Takes Two to Make a Thing go Right,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” and “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time.”
Unfortunately, the Charles H. Morris Center was not the best layout for the set. For some reason, the self-proclaimed “Dance Party” was interrupted and crippled by rows upon rows of wooden chairs, reaching to all sides of the room.
As a result, the first fans to jump up and dance looked pitifully cramped and conspicuous, making the rest of the audience hesitant to follow. The full house barely fit into the hall, which seemed at times to amplify the music almost to an overload of sound.
Luckily, the cool grooves overpowered the poorly-planned layout, as couples gradually made their way to the dance floor one-by-one, pushing chairs out of the way to let loose. By the end of the show, the measly group of five or six dancing fans had grown to the majority of the audience, and most of the chairs were left looking silly and abandoned.
But the problematic layout wasn’t restricted to just the audience. Up on stage, Martha High of the James Brown Show was hidden far in the back next to the drums, and her microphone was turned down so low it was impossible to hear her. She seemed a completely unnecessary accessory until Parker left the stage for a breather and she suddenly climbed up to the front and opened her mouth.
Suddenly the seemingly extraneous woman with tight white curls became an amplifier for pure power. Her throaty notes were full of strength and unexpected volume, and she moved around the stage like a queen. High invoked the style and vocal command of Diana Ross, putting modern day female vocalists like Beyoncé and Rihanna to shame.
However, after her incredible display of power and range, High slunk back to her corner, never again to grace the audience with her breath-taking voice.
She wasn’t the only band member content in the shadows. Although Parker and trombonist Dennis Rollins were animated and bubbly on the stage, the rest of the band remained rather nonchalant.
The worst was guitarist Bruno Speight, whose impeccable talent was dulled by his expression, which alternated from dubious, concerned and bored. Perhaps he was just having a bad day, but he stuck out as a strange sight to behold considering everyone in the audience was grooving or singing in ecstasy.
But the music itself was top notch, single-handedly overcoming a layout problem and a blasé musician or two. The audience clearly had a great time, as middle-aged women bounced up and down wildly like 12-year-olds and couples of all ages slow-danced to the more soulful tunes.
Parker and his band performed an earnest salute to their own musical influences including James Brown, George Clinton, and Parliament-Funkadelic. Moreover, they gave Savannah a sparkling glimpse into the incredible vivacity and musicianship that is funk.Contact Mary E. Mueller.