GEORGE DUKE REVISITS THE SOUNDS OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF FUNK, SOUL AND JAZZ ON DÉJÀ VU
Features guest performances by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, flutist Hubert Laws and saxophonist Bob Sheppard
“George Duke is that all-around musician that we point to today as a pillar of the art form. His career has seen him do it all, and if you ain’t knowin’, Google the brother and get your learn on.” -- The Urban Network
When keyboardist-composer-producer George Duke made a return trip to the heyday of funk on his 2008 recording, Dukey Treats, he reminded his fans and the music press of exactly what made the good old stuff so good. DownBeat called it “a wild and crazy album, especially if you’re nostalgic about the guitar-scratching, double-clutching rhythms of James Brown and George Clinton and the bedroom ballads of Stevie Wonder and Aaron Neville.” The Philadephia Enquirer called it simply “a valentine to funk.”
Duke returns to that same wellspring for Déjà Vu, his new recording on BPM/Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. Set for release on August 10, 2010, the album revisits the synthesizer sound that characterized some of his most memorable recordings from the golden age of funk, soul and jazz.
“The whole idea behind Déjà Vu was to take a look back at some of the stuff I used to do that was a little more musically challenging,” says Duke. “In some way or another, whatever happened before always comes around again. It may be a little different, but it will resurface. That’s kind of what this album is – a resurfacing of some ideas I had back in the ‘70s when I recorded albums with a lot of synthesizers, like Feel and The Aura Will Prevail.
Still, Déjà Vu does feature a few more shades of straightahead and contemporary jazz than its predecessor – as evidenced by fine guest performances throughout the record by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, flutist Hubert Laws and saxophonist Bob Sheppard. “These are three very strong instrumentalists,” says Duke. “We do it here just like we did in the old days. Everybody gets a shot at playing. It’s not just me playing a solo and then we take it out. I try to keep it a little more democratic. It’s the typical jazz scenario of the old days, where everybody gets to play.”
The album opens with the simply titled and breezy “A Melody,” a Latin-flavored track embellished by an intriguing synth solo from Duke. “I hadn’t put a Latin tune on any of my records in a while, and I really love that Brazilian kind of thing,” he says. “I really wanted to include something like that on this record, but with a different twist.”
The funky and sensual “You Touch My Brain” was originally written for Dukey Treats, but never recorded. “I put it together for this record using some weird old clavinets and Wurlitzers and other vintage instruments – stuff that would give it that vintage ‘60s sound,” says Duke. “I had everyone in the room at the same time for that track, and we just did it, so it has that spontaneous feel.” “What Goes Around Comes Around,” co-written by Duke and saxophonist Everett Harp, lays an easygoing horn melody atop a tricky, syncopated backbeat. As an added surprise, Duke takes a turn behind the drum kit in addition to manning the keyboards.
At first shimmering and exotic, then rocked up and edgy, “Ripple in Time” is Duke’s tribute to Miles Davis that features Oscar Brashear on trumpet. “It was fun to have Oscar do his Miles imitation on this track,” says Duke. “It conjures up that period for Miles in the ‘70s when he was doing some of his more funky stuff with the strange chords underneath.”
GEORGE DUKE SERVES UP FUNKY TREATS ON HEADS UP DEBUT
Dukey Treats Due in Stores August 26, 2008
Veteran keyboardist and producer George Duke remembers a time when funk was a powerful force – not just in popular music but in social discourse. Frequently with a measure of wit and irony, and often with a strong dose of positivity at the core, titans like James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and other funk icons of the ‘60s and ‘70s boldly addressed societal concerns ranging from poverty to racial disharmony to the battle of the sexes.
Duke invokes that same combination of wit and wisdom in Dukey Treats (HUCD 3143), his debut on BPM/Heads Up International set for worldwide release on August 26, 2008. A careful balance of rhythmic energy and simmering balladry, Dukey Treats recalls the golden age of funk and soul, while at the same time maintaining a fresh sound and addressing issues that are relevant to the global culture of the 21st century.
“I didn’t want to drift too far away from the old school sensibility,” Duke explains. “That was my main objective. I wanted to do an album where everybody went into the room at the same time and played. That’s important, because the personalities of the musicians come through, and it’s not just a progression of different musicians coming in one at a time, sitting down in front of a computer and laying down a track.”
Among the numerous treats on this album are not just the songs themselves but the roster of high-profile personnel helping to bring them to life – many of them alumni of Duke’s earlier bands and projects. Included on the guest list are bassist Christian McBride, percussionist Sheila E and trumpeter Michael “Patches” Stewart, to name a few. Along with Duke himself, the vocal crew includes Jonathan Butler, Howard Hewett, Teena Marie, Rachelle Ferrell and more.
The high-energy opener, “Everyday Hero,” is a song of praise for the various unsung and under-recognized figures who move in and out of our lives every day – police officers, firefighters, doctors, teachers and countless others who make contributions that often go unnoticed. “This is the first tune I wrote for the album,” says Duke. “I wanted something funky that had something relevant to say. It’s sort of a Sly Stone vibe, only on steroids.” “A Fonk Tail,” an intergalactic epic full of over-the-top comic moments, is Duke’s nod to Parliament/Funkadelic, who perfected the caricature of the cosmic funk hero back in the early ‘70s. “I’ve often wondered what happened to funny funk,” he says. “What happened to the fun and comedy in R&B. This track is recorded in that old-school tradition.”
The title track is one of two songs recorded with Duke’s original Dukey Stick band (the other being “Mercy,” just a couple tracks later). On hand are guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, bassist Byron Miller, drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler and percussionist Sheila E. Duke who trades vocal lines with Josie James, Lynn Davis, Darrell Cox and Napoleon “Napi” Brock, while trumpeter Michael “Patches” Stewart (a longtime Marcus Miller sideman) rounds out the four-man horn section. “This one has all the loose talk and fun we used to have back in the day,” says Duke.
The comical “Creepin’,” which features Christian McBride on upright bass, is a rearrangement of a song that first appeared on Duke’s 2002 recording, Face the Music. “I did a remix of the song, and I had been sitting on it for a while. It’s a humorous look at sneaking around on your significant other, with the girls pitted against the guys.”
On the more serious side, “Sudan (It’s a Cryin’ Shame)” deals with the human tragedy that continues in Darfur. “Joining me to sing about it is Jonathan Butler and Teena Marie,” says Duke. “The song is not so much a political statement as an awakening to the tragic situation being perpetrated there.”
The scope of keyboardist-composer-producer George Duke’s imprint on jazz and pop music over the past forty years is almost impossible to calculate. He has collaborated with some of the most prominent figures in the industry. A producer since the 1980s, he has crafted scores of fine recordings – many of them GRAMMY winners – for artists representing almost every corner of the contemporary American music landscape.
Duke was born in San Rafael, California, in January 1946. When he was four, his mother took him to a performance by that other Duke of jazz, Duke Ellington. He admits that he doesn’t remember much of the performance, but his mother told him years later that he spent the next several days demanding a piano.
Duke began his formal training on the instrument at age seven, his earliest influence being the culturally and historically rich black music of his local Baptist church. By his teen years, his universe of musical influences had expanded to include the more secular sounds of young jazz mavericks like Miles Davis, Les McCann and Cal Tjader – all of whom inspired him to play in numerous high school jazz groups. After high school, he attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and received a bachelor’s degree in 1967.
But perhaps the most important lessons came after college, when Duke joined Al Jarreau in forming the house band at the Half Note, the popular San Francisco club, in the late ‘60s. He also played with Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon in other San Francisco clubs around the same time.
For the next several years, Duke experimented with jazz and fusion by collaborating and performing with artists as diverse as Jean Luc-Ponty, Frank Zappa, Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke. He launched his solo recording career at age 20, and shortly thereafter began cutting LPs for the MPS label in the ‘70s. As the decade progressed, he veered more toward fusion, R&B and funk with albums like From Me To You (1976) and Reach For It (1978).
During this period he recorded what is possibly his best known album, Brazilian Love Affair. Released in 1980, the album included vocals by Flora Purim and Milton Nascimento, and percussion by Airto Moreira. Love Affair stood in marked contrast to the other jazz/funk styled albums he was cutting at the time. Duke’s reputation as a skilled producer was also gathering steam. By the end of the ‘80s, he had made his mark as a versatile producer by helping to craft recordings by a broad cross section of jazz, R&B and pop artists: Raoul de Souza, Dee Dee Bridgewater, A Taste of Honey, Jeffrey Osborne, Deniece Williams, Melissa Manchester, Al Jarreau, Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, The Pointer Sisters, Take 6, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker and many others. Several of these projects scored GRAMMY Awards.
During this time, Duke was just as busy outside the studio as inside. He worked as musical director for numerous large-scale events, including the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1988. The following year, along with Marcus Miller, he served as musical director of NBC’s acclaimed late-night music performance program, Sunday Night.
The ‘90s were no less hectic. He toured Europe and Japan with Dianne Reeves and Najee in 1991, and joined the Warner Brothers label the following year with the release of Snapshot, an album that stayed at the top of the jazz charts for five weeks and generated the top 10 R&B single, “No Rhyme, No Reason.”
Other noteworthy albums in the ‘90s included the orchestral tour de force Muir Woods Suite (1993) and the eclectic Illusions (1995), in addition to the numerous records Duke produced for a variety of other artists: Najee, George Howard, the Winans, and Natalie Cole (Duke produced 1/3 of the material on Cole’s GRAMMY-winning 1996 release, Stardust).