Aside from the major jazz releases I try to cover, I also collect other new music and try to do ‘overview’ reviews of several albums when possible. I had one in progress, and the ‘highlight’ release for the set was DreamWeaver from George Duke. The album was released three weeks ago on July 16th, and it is one of the best recordings of the year, as well as one of my favorites from Duke.
Dreamweaver mixes mainstream jazz, funk, pop and fusion elements in a very tender and intimate way, and showcases Duke’s vocal, compositional and most of all his formidable keyboard chops. There is the very sentimental ‘Missing You’ which he wrote for his wife who died in 2012, but changed up slightly to make it more broadly applicable … as he says he often thinks of her and just wants to reach out and chat about nothing and desperately missed her.
There is a load of fun on the album as well, the playful ‘Ash Tray’ is a booty-shakin’ jam that is loose and free-flowing and nonsensical.
George Duke was a pioneer in the fusion realm, joining up with Jean-Luc Ponty in the late 60s at the same time as Miles Davis and others were experimenting melding music from both jazz and rock to create an entirely new type of music. He then spent a long time with Frank Zappa during his most musically experimental period, with albums such as Lather (the song Greggary Peccary is simply 20 minutes of epic awesomeness), Apostrophe and Overnight Sensation.
Throughout his career he has worked with a who’s who in the jazz, R&B and pop world including a strong contribution to Michael Jackson’s 1979 ‘Off the Wall’. He achieved R&B fame and success with the Clarke/Duke project alongside fellow jazz-fusion legend Stanley Clarke – though their radio-centric work never caught my interest and has aged poorly, for these guys to see financial rewards for such inspiring careers is worthwhile. Later in the 1980s he got to work with Miles Davis, penning one song each for Tutu and Amandla. Since then he has released albums crossing genres and working with loads of artists, right up until a 2011 tour with Marcus Miller and David Sanborn.
Duke had been dealing with chronic lymphocytic leukemia recently, but had been working hard completing and promoting the album, leading many (such as myself) to think that perhaps he was in remission and might even be able to tour in support of the record. While he will be missed, it is a tribute to his enduring spirit that he worked himself out of his battles with cancer and debilitating depression after the loss of his wife last year to create his best work in years.
Here is the video Duke created to highlight his final project, a work of love for his recently passed wife: