Stanley Clarke / George Duke

The Clarke/Duke Project, Vols. 1-3

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In 2010, Great Britain's BGO imprint began re-releasing Stanley Clarke's CBS recordings, which include the three records he made with George Duke as the Clarke/Duke Project between 1981 and 1990. To listen to this double disc is to hear an aural portrait of the fusion scene as it really met and and melded with adult contemporary and '80s R&B. The first album issued in 1981 included drummer John Robinson (Rufus) and some guests, and both men on vocals. The first set netted them a crossover hit single in "Sweet Baby," an unlikely midtempo groove ballad. (It hit number 19 on the pop chart and number six at R&B.) The sheer imagination on the first Clarke/Duke Project record is startling in its reach, from the accessible melodic fusion of its opener "Wild Dog" and its funk cover of "Louie Louie" (that, criminally, never made it onto any of the various-artists collections that showcased the legendary Richard Berry tune), to the P-Funk-drenched "Let's Get Started" to the '80s soul ballad "Touch and Go." The second C/DP set was issued in 1983, and from its opener, "Put It on the Line," it showcased the degree that drum machines began to dominate rock, soul, and pop. The trio was also joined by renowned session players and guest vocalists Jeffrey Osborne and Howard Hewett (Shalamar), and Lynn Davis. It reflected more than anything the kinds of productions Duke was doing for other artists at the time. It also reveals the attempts at pop songwriting both men were doing at the time -- clearly they enjoyed being on the charts. That said, it's musically consistent despite its production excesses. The third C/DP album released in 1990 was as slick as its predecessor. Dennis Chambers replaced Robinson on the drum kit, and Osborne and Hewett returned from the previous outing. Rappers Above the Law appear on "No Place to Hide," which also features a stellar sung lead vocal from a teenage Rahsaan Patterson. Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson make guest appearances on "Find Out Who You Are." On the album's best-remembered track, a cover of George Clinton's "Mothership Connection," Kirk Whalum and George Bohannon appear. There isn't any bonus material included, but the remastering is excellent and there is an historical liner essay by John O'Regan.

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