George Duke - Ultimate George Duke (2007)

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    Mosaic Records was founded in 1983 and over the years has become one of the most respected names in jazz. The renowned boxed sets for which the label is famous often evolved into much sought after collectors items and now, with the launch of Mosaic Contemporary, that same knack of reaching back for genre framing epics is being brought to the world of contemporary jazz. The concept of Mosaic Contemporary's flagship ‘Ultimate' collection is simple yet stunningly effective. It recognizes the fact that nearly every important artist in contemporary jazz has recorded seminal material for more than one label. Consequently, any resultant ‘best of' collections have always been, at best, narrow and selective snapshots of an artists overall work. By licensing the most important tracks from various labels and then arranging them into chronological compilations Mosaic Contemporary can, for the first time ever, deliver definitive highlights of an artist's career.

    If proof of this were needed one need look no further than the dazzling new release ‘The Ultimate George Duke'. The CD includes eleven terrific tracks taken from nine different albums that, in their time, were released by four different record companies over a period of thirty years.

    The chronological aspect of ‘The Ultimate George Duke' brings instant satisfaction and immediately transports the listener into 1977 for the funk laden title track from the album ‘Reach For It'. From that point on, with frequent stopping off points across the breadth and width of Duke's considerable discography, there is not one weak link and as the equally funky ‘Dukey Stick' (1978) gives way to the fusion flavoured ‘Say That You Will' (1979) it provides a timely reminder of how significant the vocal component has always been in Duke's work. The title cut from his 1980 ‘Brazilian Love Affair' is frothy and as exciting as the title suggests it should be. It has a Steely Dan feel about it and when we fast forward to 1989 for ‘Love Ballad' from the ‘Night After Night' CD the hugely familiar melody and Duke's distinctive keys bring the memories flooding back. Also from ‘Night After Night', and just as familiar, is Duke's outstanding cover of the Anita Baker hit ‘Same Ole Love'. In fact these tunes from ‘Night After Night' are the only two not composed by Duke himself and his talent as a writer is wonderfully illustrated with the sensuous ‘Love Can Be So Cold' from his 1995 release ‘Illusions'. This song features both Lori Perry and Jim Gilstrap on backing vocals and for ‘She's Amazing' from the 2000 ‘Cool' they are joined by Chante Moore to fuel that same sultry George Duke vibe.

    The seven minute plus epic ‘My Piano' from the ‘Face The Music' album also involves Perry and Gilstrap. This horn driven number shimmers with Latin and world music overtones, features a contribution from contemporary jazz notable Everette Harp and is galvanized by Lenny Castro's thumping percussion. One of the best tracks, not only in this collection but also of Duke's entire career, is the hugely addictive ‘6 O'Clock'. Taken from the 1992 ‘Snapshot' CD it glistens with Duke's sparkling keyboards, has bass from Larry Kimpel that is nothing short of incredible and is topped of by superb backing vocals by Phil Perry. It could be argued that jazz fusion doesn't get any better than this but then of course there is the small matter of ‘No Rhyme, No Reason'. Also from ‘Snapshot' this long standing personal favourite is sumptuous, soulful and an absolute blueprint for what great contemporary jazz should be.

    With ‘The Ultimate George Duke' Mosaic Contemporary has provided a wonderful opportunity to rediscover some timeless gems and is doing exactly the same with other ‘Ultimate' titles that currently include collections from Kirk Whalum and Jaco Pastorius. The partner ‘Intimate' series has an offering from Patti Austin and with other compilations under consideration, including material from Joe Sample, Jeff Lorber and Gato Barbieri, there is little doubt that Mosaic Contemporary is set to become the go-to label for the best contemporary jazz of all time. 

    By Denis Poole,