George Duke – Face The Music

George Duke
Face The Music
(Big Piano – 2002)
by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

George Duke is one of the pioneers of jamming jazz funk. Albums like ‘Reach For It’ and ‘Don’t Let Go’ from the 70’s immediately come to mind, as do the The ‘Clarke/Duke’ Projects from the 80’s. Since then his 1997 release ‘Is Love Enough?’ is the only other one I can recall the name of. Oh, they were all good releases, but not notable. The last bunch of releases, it seems that George was making ‘thematic’ albums, and all the tracks on each CD were geared at that particular theme, sometime successfully….

This first release on his Big Piano label is a throwback to the old George Duke. The songs here are varied and individually wonderful, adding up to great CD. The Black Messiah is a long, slow, juke-joint funky piece that has live elements mixed in… very Donny Hathaway. Chillin’ is an uptempo, smooth jazz piano ramble. My Piano takes you on a ride ‘south of the border’. Guess You’re Not the One is a love-lost ballad in the classic Duke tradition, filled with lush vocals and piano accents.

Let’s Roll picks it up again, Christian McBride carrying this urban track with his strong bass presence. Ain’t It Funky Now is just that…. funky. Jef Lee Johnson struts his guitar to very horny-horn-ish accompaniement provided by the likes of Everett Harp, Dan Higgins, Oscar Brashear and Isaac Smith. Close To You is the obligatory love song, featuring Kirk Whalum on saxophone as George croons. Another way to look at it starts of slow and a little eerie, growing into a fusion/funk thing that works largely due to some absolutely furious bass-ing from McBride.

Creepin’ is the really low-down funky track. Everything is one the one here with heavy bass and kick and horns that embody the soul of Maceo Parker. The last track is the 11 minute 10 mile Jog which was cut down from a 35-minute jam session, and I DO mean JAM session.

Ahhhh it’s great to get that dose of Duke that’s been so painfully sparse this last decade. Check it out.