This review appears in the August 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s JazzInside Magazine.
Though I knew of his wife’s passing, I had no idea that Mr. Duke was also very ill. Therefore his passing came as a great shock. I’m posting this review exactly as I originally wrote it, as a tribute to an incredibly creative and influential musician. Rest In Peace, George Duke.
DREAMWEAVER – Heads Up Records HUI-34170-02 www.concordmusicgroup.com Dreamweaver; Stones of Orion; Trippin’; Ashtray; Missing You; Transition 1; Change The World; Jazzmatazz; Round The Way Girl; Transition 2; Brown Sneakers; You Never Know; Ball and Chain; Burnt Sausage Jam; Happy Trails
PERSONNEL: George Duke, piano, Rhodes, synths, drum programming, arp odyssey, mini moog, Wurlitzer electric piano, castlebar clavinet, vocals; Stanley Clarke, upright bass; Gorden Campbell, drums; Daniel Higgins, tenor sax, flute; Everette Harp, alto sax; Kamasi Washington, tenor sax; Gary Grant, trumpet; Michael Patches Stewart, trumpet; Terry Dexter, background vocals; Shannon Pearson, background vocals; Lamont VanHook, background vocals; Rashid Duke, Ahoom; Erik Zobler, Ahoom; Paul Jackson, Jr., guitar; Chris Clarke, words and thangs; Rose Geddes, lady with a question; Rachelle Ferrell, vocals; Jef Lee Johnson, guitar; Larry Kimpel, bass; Jim Gilstrap, background vocals; Lalah Hathaway, vocals; Jeffrey Osborne, vocals; Lori Perry, vocals; BeBeWinans, vocals; Freddie Jackson, vocals; Dira Sugandi, vocals; Terry Dexter, vocals; Howard Hewett, vocals; Kennedy Fuselier, kid vocals; Josie James, background vocals; Michael Landau, guitar; Chill, rap; Ramon Flores, trumpet solo; Allen Kaplan, trombone; Lisa Chamblee-Hampton, round the way girl; Lenny Castro, percussion; Michael Manson, bass; Teena Marie, vocals; John Roberts, drums; Christian McBride, bass
By Curtis Davenport
The human spirit is a funny thing; when we are feeling our greatest pain, is often when we rise to the occasion and deliver greatness. We often feel that kind of pain when we lose a loved one. Legendary keyboardist George Duke’s wife of 40 years, Corine, passed away in 2012 after a long battle with cancer. For quite a while Mr. Duke, a renowned workaholic, was understandably devastated. He did not write or perform any music, something he had often sought solace in, in times of trouble. Then, while attending a music cruise and listening some of his colleagues play for the first few days, the inspiration returned. Duke began to write while still at sea and began to record when he returned to his studio. The result is DreamWeaver, an R & B and Funk driven Contemporary Jazz album, which is the best thing that I’ve heard from Duke at least a decade.
Duke cut his musical teeth in the bands of Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderley and Jean-Luc Ponty, in addition to his chart topping work with bassist Stanley Clarke in the eighties. I say that to remind everyone that eclecticism has been Mr. Duke’s calling card throughout his five decade career. And DreamWeaver touches on most of Duke’s musical stops. The best news is that each one of these is invariably satisfying. The album was recorded over multiple sessions, which allowed Duke to bring on board an all-star lineup of guests; Mr. Clarke, Christian McBride, Everette Harp, Rachelle Ferrell, Paul Jackson, Jr., Jeffrey Osborne and Lalah Hathaway are among the “big names” that appear on various tracks. There are also two other guests who make contributions that turn out now to be extremely poignant; more on them in a moment.
Though there are a couple of obvious and very moving tributes to his late wife here (“Missing You” which features Ms. Ferrell as a wordless vocal counterpart to Mr. Duke’s lead and “Happy Trails”, the old Roy Rogers sign-off, turned into a laid back piece of jazz-funk), don’t think that DreamWeaver is some kind of sad jazz requiem. There are many tracks that will get your head nodding, your toes tapping and put a smile on your face as you reach for the “repeat” button. There’s “Stones of Orion”, a nice piece of straight ahead jazz, with a touch of R & B; Duke’s piano and Clarke’s bass shine. “Trippin’” is a nice autobiographical slice of modern soul. “Ashtray” is hard driving funk out of the Bootsy Collins school. “Change The World” is a “We are The World” style call for social change, complete with an all-star choir of vocalists. “You Never Know” is a nice laid back Latin groove with Duke’s falsetto singing about the impermanence of life. And “Burnt Sausage Jam” is a loose 15 minute improvisation, with Duke, McBride and many others clearly having a ball as they groove through multiple musical styles.
Then there’s the appearance on many of the tracks of Jef Lee Johnson, the Philly based guitar wizard who was a longtime musical partner of Duke’s. Johnson died suddenly last January, not too long after the sessions for this album were completed. He is a strong presence throughout. And there’s the unforgettable appearance on “Ball and Chain” of Teena Marie. At the time of her death in December 2010, Ms. Marie and Mr. Duke had just begun work on Ms. Marie’s long-discussed jazz album. The vocals for “Ball and Chain” were some of the only things completed. After her death, Mr. Duke offered the track to Marie’s estate for release on her posthumous album Beautiful. They declined but gave Duke permission to complete the track, which appears on DreamWeaver. Ms. Marie sounds wonderful and the entire track is first-rate, rivaling “Tune in Tomorrow” and “Casanova Brown”, two of the jazzier tracks on Ms. Marie’s classic R & B albums. Thinking of what this album might have been caused a lump in my throat.
Though the circumstances surrounding its creation were less than ideal, George Duke has created a musical gem in DreamWeaver. We hope that his creativity continues for many more years.