Maceo Parker: Soul Classics

Longtime James Brown horn foil Maceo Parker reanimates soul and funk tropes in this beautifully produced, rocking collection of tunes from the ’60s and ’70s. Backed by the supple WDR Big Band, this spirited collection is anything but archival. Not only does it showcase a sax master still at the top of his very fleet form, it’s also a vivid reminder of a time when popular music still delivered melody as much as rhythm. That’s particularly true of “I Wish” and “Higher Ground,” among the more memorable compositions of Stevie Wonder, perhaps the last great Motown melodist.

Sparked by the bass of Christian McBride (check how deep he drops on “Soul Power”) and Cora Coleman-Dunham’s drums, Parker brought the Leverkusener Jazz Festival house in Germany to its feet in November 2011. He devotes most of this disc to Brown, starting with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” the classic that signaled Parker’s tenor debut with Brown in 1965 (he began his gig with the Godfather of Soul a year earlier, on baritone). But Parker also delves into the Wonder songbook, funkifies Larry Graham’s “One in a Million You” and makes “Do Your Thing” even swampier than the Isaac Hayes original, largely thanks to Paul Shigihara’s smeared guitar. Parker sings, too. His voice, reedy yet springy, works best on Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady.”

Four years ago, Parker and the WDR Big Band focused on the music of Ray Charles in Roots & Grooves, a double-live-album with Parker originals that didn’t measure up to the vintage material. “Come By and See,” the one original here, is sturdy, a nice closer. Parker clearly knows where to go for the good funk-and how to deliver it hot and tasty.

Originally Published