Friday, 30 August 2013
The passing of a Duke
It was with great sadness that I read about the death of legendary funk musician George Duke the other day, he was a truly powerhouse performer who combined eccentricity and fun with truly great musical talent. Some of his standout albums from the late 70s grace my record collection and have provided hours of enraptured listening over the years.
I first came across George Duke when I made an ultimately doomed attempt to play the bass guitar when I was about 16. Although the guitar was to remain zipped in its case for the duration of my lessons, my teacher (who was a session musician of the old school) introduced me to a pantheon of great jazz, funk and soul artists whom I still listen to now.
Amongst such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham and David Sanborn, George Duke was the one who stuck out most prominently. His style, his performance and his incredible session/live band which included old-pros like Sheila E (later to have success with Prince), Napoleon Murphy Brock (a longtime collaborator from Duke's days with Frank Zappa) and Byron Miller to name a few. He was an artist of consummate professionalism but with a sense of the ridiculous that many musicians attest made him a great pleasure to work with. One only has to watch his studio style during the recording of 1978's 'Dukey Stick' to see the energy that he brought will him to the session.
His work could be sporadic with some tracks and albums noticeably weaker than others, but when he scored he scored a direct hit. 'Master of the game' which was the first album of his that I owned had many such moments including the sublime 'I want you for myself', the lush 'Every little step I take' and the funky 'Love you more' (famously sampled by Daft Punk many years later).
There are other great albums from his golden age of the late 70s including: 'Reach for It' (1977), 'Don't Let Go' (1978) and 'Follow the rainbow' (1979) but his landmark moment came with 'Brazilian Love Affair' a 1979 labour of love in which Duke reallocated to Rio to infuse his music with the iconic sounds of Brazil and harness some of the incredible musical talent that the country possesses. From the opening guitar licks of the title track you can almost picture the sunkist beaches of Ipenema and Copacabana. This style is carried right thought the album, even through some of the more improvisational passages. It is Duke's crowning glory, a real treasure of a record!
Once again I must reiterate my sadness at his passing, a wonderful talent who I never got the chance to see perform but who will live on through his legion of fans and, more importantly, through his excellent body of work!