This documentary captures three of modern funk's chief architects (Maceo Parker, Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis and Fred Wesley) in superb live performances with assorted guests.
The band is seen onstage playing powerful versions of terrific songs, and in rehearsal stretching out. Guest performers Kym Mazelle, George Clinton, Pedro Abrunhosa and the Rebirth Brass Band join them live, and are briefly interviewed individually. Also interviewed are the band members and
several acquaintances including Maceo's brother Melvin and John "Jabo" Starks, both formerly of James Brown's band. Intertitles emphasize certain lines from songs or interviews, such as "Funk is what you don't play," and "Chaos with a groove."
James Brown's influence is inescapable--several of his songs anchor the set and Parker often belts out catchphrases and hiccups rather than singing over the driving, syncopated rhythms. Influenced by the soulful arrangements of Ray Charles, alto saxophonist Parker had joined Brown in the "hardest
working band in show business" during the mid-1960s, and his wildly expressive playing immediately pushed them to new levels of creativity, not to mention commercial success; Ellis, a tenor sax disciple of Sonny Rollins, joined Brown's band in 1965; and Wesley, a self-described "frustrated be-bop
trombonist," originally came aboard strictly for the paycheck, going on to discover a true calling and become Brown's musical arranger for many years. All three later played in various permutations of George Clinton's band Parliament, including Bootsy's Rubber Band, thus going on to influence a
generation of black music (and provide further generations with an inexhaustible wellspring for sampling).
Interview snippets with Melvin Parker and "Jabo" recall the players' early days, as do visits to the bandmembers' old neighborhoods. Clinton offers an interesting contrast between the early James Brown band in their matching suits and the later Parliament wearing the most outrageous costumes
imaginable. The songs run the gamut from smooth jazz to blues, but the bulk of the set is dedicated to pure, organic funk, with a plethora of solos from the three principals and short showcases for their hugely talented sidemen (bassist/singer Jerome Preston being a particular revelation).
Sophisticated and intelligently arranged, tight yet fluid, the set climaxes with Fred leading the audience in a rousing "House Party," which would have been an appropriate title for the entire film. Beautifully shot, it wisely digresses from the obvious to include revealing moments such as Wesley
lubricating and exercising his lips while Parker takes a solo, and accurately depicts three aging, overweight men with gray hair and glasses as the absolute epitome of cool.
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: NR
- Review: This documentary captures three of modern funk's chief architects (Maceo Parker, Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis and Fred Wesley) in superb live performances with assorted guests. The band is seen onstage playing powerful versions of terrific songs, and in rehears… (more)