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George Duke: The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection

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What perfect timing for two grand box sets of classic jazz-funk and fusion. Whether they realize it or not, current groove-savvy artists like Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Flying Lotus and Thundercat are indebted to the ’70s work of keyboardist George Duke and bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke. These boxes are ground zero for the meld of jazz, neo-soul, hip-hop and electronic music that defines today’s DJ culture (and the forward-looking jazz mindful of that culture).

The six titles in Duke’s box, released between 1977 and 1979, pick up where the ace keyboardist and composer left off with his transitional MPS LPs. After playing with Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Frank Zappa, he had already developed a knack for fusing soul-jazz with prog-rock, but he was also displaying his love for gutbucket blues, as on 1975’s Johnny “Guitar” Watson-aided I Love the Blues, She Heard My Cry. Whiffs of that blues sensibility can be heard on 1977’s From Me to You, Duke’s first Epic LP, especially on the hazy “What Do You Really Fear?” and the rock-inflected “Sing It.” But on From Me to You, Duke also exhibits a burgeoning gift for singing glowing pop melodies. Around an array of synthesizers, displaying exemplary improvisational chops and an airy FM-radio falsetto, he finds unlikely links between Bernie Worrell and Joe Jackson.

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