George Duke - Shine On, The Anthology: The Epic Years (2016)

George Duke
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An artist who performed with Jean Luc Ponty, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and Frank Zappa would not be afraid to challenge genres, and that is certainly the case for George Duke. Duke, of course, was an innovating piano and keyboard player going back to the 1960s, and he released a series of jazz and fusion albums under several labels between 1966 and 1976.

Duke also received major commercial and critical acclaim for his work, mostly at Elektra and Warner Brothers, from the mid-1980s to 2000. However, Duke’s eclecticism was in full flower and effect during his seven year association with Epic/CBS records that began in 1977 and is the focus of the two-CD compilation Shine On, The Anthology: The Epic Years.

An artist who performed with Jean Luc Ponty, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and Frank Zappa would not be afraid to challenge genres, and that is certainly the case for George Duke. Duke, of course, was an innovating piano and keyboard player going back to the 1960s, and he released a series of jazz and fusion albums under several labels between 1966 and 1976.

Duke also received major commercial and critical acclaim for his work, mostly at Elektra and Warner Brothers, from the mid-1980s to 2000. However, Duke’s eclecticism was in full flower and effect during his seven year association with Epic/CBS records that began in 1977 and is the focus of the two-CD compilation Shine On, The Anthology: The Epic Years.

Duke had an extended run of mainstream success during those years, and tracks such as “Reach for It,” “Dukey Stick,” “Say That You Will,” “Movin’ On,” “I Want You For Myself,” and “Sweet Baby,” as well as instrumentals such as “Positive Energy” that were all mainstays on R&B radio throughout the 1970s and early 80s. Each cut represents the ease in which Duke operated within the structures of specific genres, along with an unwillingness to be confined that is consistent with his personal history as well as the history of his associates and contemporaries from that creative era.

Some of the lesser known cuts on this anthology also need to be heard because they show Duke’s continuing influence on generations of artists. For example the rapid fire style of vocal flow employed by hip-hop artists in recent years has its roots in a track such as “Don’t Let Go.” Duke’s keyboard work on this song shows he maintained firm footing in jazz based improvisation even as he dove deeply into R&B and funk. “Pluck,” a garage jam band styled instrumental, features classic jazz influenced communication between the players and the plucking and thumping electric bass that served as one of the era’s iconic musical sounds.

Cuts such as the aforementioned “Say That You Will” and “Sweet Baby” confirm that Duke also had a penchant for love songs (the same can be said about his 1992 classic “No Rhyme, No Reason” which is not included on this anthology), and Shine On includes other slow and mid-tempo love songs like “The Way I Feel,” the breezy “Straight from the Heart,” and the quiet storm instrumental “Never Judge a Book By Its Cover.”

George Duke had a career that lasted nearly 50 years, and while no period is 100 percent similar to the one that came before or followed, each had the recurring themes of musical exploration and high quality music that can be heard in Shine On the Anthology: The Epic Years, a project that is a must have for George Duke fans, as well as those looking for a soundtrack to a creative time in R&B music. Strongly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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