1. Mr. McFreeze
2. Love Reborn
4. Spock Does The Bump At The Disco
6. Vulcun Mind Probe
7. The Dream That Ended
Source: Vinyl LP
Format: V0 VBR MP3
(View Comments To Listen)
George Duke, if you’ve read earlier entries, is one of my favorite artists of all-time. In my mind, he is one third of a “Holy Trinity” of keyboardists that also includes Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Now in the jazz world, there are a wealth of brilliant (and possibly more notable) pianists, and some very talented keyboardists in the world (Jan Hammer, for example) — so why these three? Well, beyond the familiarity I have with their catalogs, it really boils down to the unique voice the three carry in both their acoustic and electric worlds. Chick is said to be rather quirky, sometimes “weird”, but he does not change this when he moves from a grand acoustic piano to an ARP Odyssey (for example). Herbie Hancock is said to make powerful pieces that make you think about what you’re hearing, but this does not change much when he moves from acoustic piano to Rhodes piano. Certainly you even hear his phrasing and unique chord changes when he is on one of what has to have been a staggering array of synthesizers he’s amassed over the years. This is also true of George Duke, though, his synthesizer work I would have to say is definitive (so far as that the makers of Korg synthesizers actually named a patch after him: “The Dukey Lead”).
However, compared to the other two, George Duke’s work is largely unsung. It is only through the collective clamor of music lovers that his much-coveted discography on the MPS label (where he landed after working with Frank Zappa and others) found re-release on CD in the last few years. There is also a tendency for critics to deride artists that diverge from the “challenging” sounds of acoustic jazz for venturing into “lesser” forms of art — namely what is often called “fusion” (but is still jazz, just played with different instruments), and in George’s case, R&B and funk music. There, too, is where he diverges from the others in the Trinity, and dare I say, shines above them. Try as he might, Herbie made modest inroads as an R&B artist — largely because critics came down with the hammer, and partly, I wonder if it wasn’t because he was ahead of his time. That will be an entry for another time, I suppose.
Of his MPS catalog, there is one album that has eluded the ears of many of George Duke’s fans: The Dream, an album recorded in 1976, but released in 1978, a year after George left the fledgling label to try his hand at Epic Records, where he more successfully bridged the jazz and R&B worlds together, and also made his name as a producer of other artists. This album however, did actually see release eventually — in 1982 under the title The 1976 Solo Keyboard Album, which goes without saying is one of my favorite albums period, if only for its lead track, “Mr. Mcfreeze”.
So why is the MPS release relevant? Well, if you’re familiar with the Solo Keyboard Album, you’ll note some aural differences between this and the one released on Epic years later — in “Mr. McFreeze”, George uses a different lead (and phrase) as the top melody in several breakdowns, there’s an entire minute or so of music that was chopped off “Spock Does The Bump At The Space Disco” (on its Epic release, the title of this song was even chopped). “Tzina” includes some wind chimes that are not present in the Epic version. Most strikingly, the song “Pathways” is completely acoustic in this version. For those who aren’t familiar with either, but may know the name George Duke primarily from the “R&B” side of his career, hearing a song like “Mr. Mcfreeze” may be a total “WTF” upon first listen.
Most impressive about this album in general, is that all the instruments you hear, are performed by George Duke. Sure, it is mostly synthesizer — though I never knew George Duke to ever play the drums (other than with his mouth — as you’ll find if you scrounge YouTube enough) or the bass guitar. That he did so and managed to make all the pieces fit, not to mention sound as competent as anyone else, behind his own (at times aggressive) keyboard play, just raised the profile of George Duke to someone who already held him in high regard. “Love Reborn” is a piece that George Duke revisits so many times throughout his career, I lost count. My favorite is his version included on Brazilian Love Affair, his 1980 opus, but here, it is a rather tranquil acoustic piece with some fast-fingered phrases throughout. The aforementioned “Spock Does The Bump At The Space Disco” is a fun and funky piece, that may sound a little disjointed at times. “Tzina” has a more regal and epic sound than the preview given a few albums back (Feel, his much esteemed 1974 release), “Vulcun Mind Probe” (as spelled by the people at MPS — Epic corrected this to make the obvious Star Trek references a little clearer) is what you’d expect from the title, and the closer “The Dream That Ended” is an appropriate ending note to this album, which might as well be titled Introduction To George Duke: Keyboardist Extraordinaire.