To borrow the opening line from the hymn “Jesus Saves,” we can faithfully say about Maceo Parker, “We have heard the joyful sound.” “Soul Classics, ”the Kinston alto saxophonist and singer’s follow-up to 2007’s “Roots and Grooves” – both recorded live with the Cologne-based WDR Big Band – catches him in exuberant spirits. With guests Christian McBride (electric bass) and Cora Coleman-Dunham (drums) throughout, Parker lifts audience and band with the charisma of an electrifying revival preacher.
What makes Parker unique is his readily identifiable personal sound, his blues- and gospel-rooted phrasing and inflections and the conviction of his delivery. Born in 1943, he grew up in an era with bebop as the contemporary jazz of the day, and he chose a funkier, more soulful path that led him to nearly two decades with James Brown’s band. Here, Brown is represented by “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Soul Power.” Arranger/conductor Mike Abene does a superb job of balancing the dynamics of the big band horns with the considerable power of the rhythm section and the melody exposition and soloing of Parker. Among the other tunes are Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and “Higher Ground,” Gamble and Huff’s “Yesterday I Had the Blues,” Issac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing” and Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady.”
Best of all is Abene’s thrilling arrangement of the Sam Dees ballad, “One in a Million You.” Here we have the album’s jazziest chart, with an introductory flute line followed by ensemble horns rising and overlapping in mellow combinations behind Parker’s embellished alto lead.
Correspondent Owen Cordle