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 loud!

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 link.

When a CD this good finishes, there’s only one thing to do. Play it again! Seriously.



Heads Up International – HUI 34170 Producer – George Duke