OK, let’s pretend that we don’t know about the
recent tragedy in George Duke’s life and let’s pretend that I
haven’t been a crazy fan for over 35 years – it’s going to be hard!
Also, I’ll try to stay away from comparisons with other artists’
music – I’ll tell you how these songs make me feel.
I love the way that George conjures up a mood with a short intro –
or outro. The one at the start of “Reach for It” has always grabbed
my attention, and the synth-heavy title track here has the same
effect. It’s spacey, slightly threatening and over headphones you
are completely absorbed, despite its brevity. The scene is perfectly
set for “Stones of Orion”, which finds George at the piano and
Stanley Clarke (of course – you cry!) on upright bass providing a
wash of cinematic sound, filled out with flute and some gorgeous
brass. It is – and I mean this in the most complimentary way – 70’s
big-city cop show writ large. Or at least it is until the rimshots
mark a different tempo and George’s love of Latin music reveals
itself. You’d expect Stanley to step forward with a solo and it’s a
tasteful one. The whole song feels like an embrace for me and far
from transporting me to another world, it makes me long for the warm
sunshine of California.
Dukey funk meets the best of clipped
urban beats on “Trippin’” and the sparse production here is sublime.
There are whispers of muted trumpet, acoustic guitar, that squelchy
Dukey synth and George’s vocal, which – let me tell you – sounds as
good as ever. Hypnotic stuff. On “AshTray”, Dukey funk (or should
that be ‘fonk’?) meets more Dukey funk. Crisp drumming, filthy
slapped bass, some crazy guitar licks and some tasty electric piano
make this a funk jam that you’ll be playing for days!! That’s before
you dig out all your other Dukey treats…
George’s voice is so good he even sounds cool speaking – and the
spoken intro to the lovely ballad “Missing You” is classic GD. I
tend to think of George as a funkateer and a jazz trailblazer but,
listen, listen and this guy is a soul singer. A soul singer who
connects. Isn’t that what the music we love should do? “Transition
1” is the coolest of interludes that leads us into “Change the
World” with its snippets of TV broadcasts and schoolkids singing.
George’s spoken intro lays it out. With no sleeve notes to read, I
have enough clues from the start that a big, gospel tune is
building. Lalah Hathaway, Jeffrey Osborne, Freddie Jackson, BeBe
Winans and Howard Hewett are delivering the magic here. Play this
Jazz dancers everywhere step forward and take the floor if you will
for “Jazzmatazz”. You’ve got skipping percussion, a tough
four-on-the-floor beat and some great horns to make you sweat.
George and his background vocalists sound great. The rap section 2
minutes in fits really well. From time to time when I’m out DJing, I
dream of having a floor full of people dancing to music this good –
just because! Radio folks, get behind this – you owe it to your
listeners. Creating atmosphere from the first few seconds is
something – I think I mentioned – that George does well, and he
shows that talent on the street-corner chit-chat that begins the
swinging and cool-as-hell “Round the Way Girl”. Hips are swaying,
notes are bending – Dukey’s in town!
“Transition 2” is a piano miniature that takes us to the immaculate
“Brown Sneakers”. It’s a jazz-rock instrumental that catapults me
right back to the 70’s when all kinds of players took more risks
than they do now. I wish I knew the guitar player’s name – and the
drummer’s name – but they, the bassist and GD burn on a 6-minute
piece of fusion heaven. It stands with the best you’ve heard this
century or last. My mind is totally blown, though, by the quite
exquisite “You Never Know”. It wraps some gentle funk in a Latin
blanket while George reads you a bedtime story that will make you
cry as you nod in a knowing way, tapping your feet and popping your
fingers to this perfect rhythm. The song is 4 minutes long, my drive
to work is 30 minutes long. Last week I put it on repeat there and
back. Ahh, some songs are almost too good.
As if the poignancy of the previous track weren’t enough, we mourn
the passing of the brilliant Teena Marie on one the last recordings
she made. Horns were added to the song as it was originally
recorded. “Ball and Chain” brings out the blues and jazz in Teena’s
hugely underrated voice. This one song is enough to make me revisit
her music and reminisce… “Burnt Sausage Jam” – you wouldn’t eat it
but if you heard this live, you might do something equally crazy!
It’s 100 mph jazz-rock with George’s sense of humour and “let’s just
do it” ballsiness much in evidence. The song goes through changes
during its 15 minutes – it’s flat out and then it’s hardly there.
Dive in! The closer “Happy Trails” is a mellow country-blues
lullaby. It’s got depth, it’s got meaning and it’s an American
classic with a twist! Music and social historians check this
When a CD this good finishes, there’s only one thing to do. Play it
Heads Up International – HUI 34170 Producer –