George Duke

Face the Music

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The first few seconds of crowd noise on the debut release from legendary funk/jazz keyboardist George Duke's label might lead the listener to believe it's a live recording. But it's just a clever interpolation. Duke fashioned "The Black Messiah" as a cool, soulful, brass-tinged meditation on the musical splendor of his mentor Cannonball Adderley, and so bookends the tune with original sounds from a date the keyboardist did with the sax icon in the early '70s -- complete with an authentic Adderley prattle to the audience about his young cohort. The essence of the recording -- which features diverse elements of everything Duke, from gospel to African rhythms to pop vocals -- is the keyboardist jamming with his tight rhythm section, featuring Christian McBride (unique because Duke rarely uses upright on his projects), guitarist Jeff Lee Johnson, and drummer John Roberts. Duke allows for a lot of tight solo action, beginning with McBride's bright solo dance on "Chillin'." The swinging bounce of that tune is balanced by elegant piano passages like that at the beginning of "My Piano." That intro leads to a mosaic of bouncy African rhythms, exotic vocal chants, and some of Duke's most fanciful ivory runs. Oh, and don't forget the horn section blasts. Those horns also provide the thrust of the old-school Average White Band-type jam "Ain't It Funky Now." Individual sax moments feature longtime pals like Kirk Whalum (on the tender Duke vocal "Close to You") and Everette Harp. For the record, the Fender Rhodes jam "Let's Roll" was written long before 9/11 took the expression to a whole new level.

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