Maceo Parker stretches out -- The famous funk artist goes back to his roots

Alto saxophonist Maceo Parker made his considerable reputation by playing punchy funk with such masters as James Brown and George Clinton. But the biggest success of his solo career, Roots Revisited, is a soul-jazz album, released last September, which allows him to stretch out melodically on such tunes as Charles Mingus’ ”Better Git Hit in Yo’ Soul.” Parker was happy to make the adjustment, even though it didn’t come naturally. ”I have to think more to play jazz,” he says. ”I have to ask myself where the changes are, where the chords are. Funk is based on a groove.”

Roots Revisited has been at or near the top of the jazz charts for the past five months. It follows a very successful year of studio session work for Parker, in which he has been featured on albums by wacky dance-poppers Deee- Lite and hard-rockers Living Colour. But don’t call the 48-year-old alto saxophonist a sideman. ”I’m a soloist,” says Parker.

In addition to his solo albums and session work, Parker tours almost constantly with two other former members of James Brown’s band, trombonist Fred Wesley and tenor sax man Pee Wee Ellis. The three play a broad range of down-home jazz and blistering funk, calling themselves the J.B. Horns, the Fred Wesley Experience, or Roots Revisited, depending upon whose album is just out. ”We think there’s something magic about how we perform together,” Parker says. ”We’re all from the James Brown school and that gives us a special chemistry.”

Now that the trio’s former leader is out of prison and will begin performing again, there’s a chance that the J.B. Horns will reunite with J.B. But Parker, Wesley, and Ellis are pretty busy on their own. With three albums to promote, they will probably be on the road for quite a while — under a variety of assumed names.