Maceo Parker's brilliant legacy as the saxophonist in James Brown's '60s and '70s bands is never far from his musical thoughts -- and on this explosive, funked- and jazzed-up live set, he digs into those glory days with a bold, brassy, and pumped-up twist on "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (featuring Parker on vocals and sax) and a drum, bass, and improvisation-heavy romp through "Soul Power." These are the centerpiece tracks on a live concert recording of a high-energy November, 2011 show at the Leverkusener Jazz Festival in Leverkusener, Germany -- a set that backs Parker's own small group (bass great Christian McBride and drummer Core Coleman-Dunham) with the WDR Big Band, a Cologne-based 15-piece orchestra led by conductor/arranger Michael Abene. It's a reunion of sorts for the saxophonist and this dynamic ensemble, who worked together on the similarly dynamic 2008 set Roots & Grooves, a set of covers and originals dedicated to Parker's greatest musical influence, Ray Charles. The saxman's intent here is to cover a wider range of soul music that has influenced him and those of subsequent generations, and his choice of material and arrangements are stellar, fluid, and grooving to the point where toe tapping, singing, and dancing along is inevitable. Best among the choices are expansive spins through two irrepressible Stevie Wonder gems, "I Wish" (whose eight minutes allow for plenty of horn sizzle and a feisty drum solo) and the swinging, bluesy "Higher Ground." Parker pays homage to Aretha Franklin with a simmering, sizzling "Rock Steady," and cools his heels on covers of deep R&B tracks by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Isaac Hayes, and a smooth, jazzy stroll through Larry Graham's "One in a Million You." Parker adds to his own catalog as a composer on the final track, "Come by and See Me," a freewheeling jam that channels Brown's spirit perfectly. After nearly five decades in the spotlight, Parker was still looking forward -- and his audience couldn't get enough.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran