George Duke

In a Mellow Tone

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Straightforward small combo jazz (basically an electric/acoustic piano trio with occasional guitar, reeds and percussion) of a kind that George Duke's detractors say he has long since abandoned, In a Mellow Tone is indubitably a mainstream jazz record with little adventurous spirit and a sound that occasionally even verges on the easy listening horrors of smooth jazz. However, as such albums go, it's more than pleasant, with Duke's underrated piano and Fender Rhodes technique driving the songs. As the Duke Ellington-derived title track suggests, this is a low-key effort that disdains showboating solos or flashy rhythmic changes, and its equal split between familiar standards like "Never Will I Marry" and mellow, melodic Duke originals holds few surprises. The one inarguable flaw is that Duke's vocals, never his strong suit, verge from forgettable to intrusive on their handful of tracks. Aside from that, at least two-thirds of In a Mellow Tone is relaxed, but never soporific, mood music. Though that may seem to be damning with faint praise to the jazz faithful who remember Duke's far more passionate early work, In a Mellow Tone largely fulfills the aesthetic demands it set out for itself.

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