by Al Kaufman
George Duke is to be excused if he chooses to revisit the days of yesteryear, for he was a major player back in the day of old school funk, and if anyone can make it fresh again, he is the man.
Duke is a titan in the jazz and funk world, harking back to the '60s when he played with everyone from Al Jarreau to Sonny Rollins, and from Nancy Wilson to Frank Zappa. He later went on to produce albums of artists as diverse as Barry Manilow, Jeffrey Osborne, and Anita Baker. He even spent some time as musical director of Saturday Night Live, all the while releasing his own monumental jazz and R&B albums (over 30 in his 40 year career).
Frustrated with restraints put on him and other artists by major labels, Duke started his own label, BPM (Big Piano Music) in 2000. It has given him the ower to do what he wants, and right now he wants to relive the days when funk mattered; when it shook the system as much as it made people shake their collective booties.
While Dukey Treats obviously recalls the golden age of funk and soul, it remains fresh and relevant. Songs such as "Everyday Hero" have the strength and upbeat atitude of Sly and the Family Stone, while the intergalactic cosmic funk of "A Fonk Tail" seems pulled straight out of George Clinton's funkadelic brain. "Listen Baby and "Right on Time" reach back to the smooth soul of the '70s, complete with melodic background vocalists.
The soul is just as buttery on his topical songs, such as "Sudan (It's a Crying Shame)" in which Duke is more matter of fact rather than pedantic. On "Somebody Laid It on Us," he name checks another soulful sex symbol who was not afraid to get political when he sings, "Marvin told us long ago/Asked us what the hell is going on?/Said war is not the answer/Only love can conquer hate and wrong."
But Dukey ultimately leaves us with a positive message. Intentionally sounding like Earth, Wind & Fire's classic "September," "Are You Ready" sends the message of global peace, respect, and tolerance, all while keeping your hips shaking.
This has it all; songs for love and songs for laughs, and songs for your head as well as your feet. Forty years later, Dukey can still bring the funk.
George Duke plays Variety Playhouse on Monday, November 24th. 8 pm $32.50/$35 door.