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George Duke: In a Mellow Tone

George Duke has certainly disappointed those in the jazz-police headquarters who head-shakingly speak of his promise wasted after wading over to the dark side of pop, funk and rock. On the other hand, over his long career, Duke has delighted many in said dark side with his pop, funk and rock. On In A Mellow Tone, his 31st solo CD, Duke and trio-mates Brian Bromberg on bass and -Terri Lyne Carrington on drums offer a warm musical trip that should satisfy both camps. There’s a mix of vocals and instrumentals, but the instrumentals work better-from the swing and bluster of “Never Will I Marry” and “Quiet Fire” to the drum-brushed “Just Because” and the beautiful “So Many Stars.” One vocal tune is remarkable, though: a piano-and-vocal treatment of “Sweet Baby,” a crossover hit for the Clarke/Duke Project 25 years ago.

We’re reminded of Duke’s nasty and funky side in The Essential George Duke, which culls selections from his 12 albums with Epic. The original “Sweet Baby” is there, of course, as are the party starters “Dukey Stick” and “Reach for It” and several cuts from his great work from 1979, A Brazilian Love Affair. And I don’t know about you, but the “Special Disco Version” of “Dukey Stick” had me pining for my long-lost platform shoes, last seen in a dumpster.

Originally Published