George Duke – DreamWeaver – Heads Up HUI 34170-02, 74:12 [7/16/13] (Distr. by Concord Music) ***½:
(George Duke – keyboards; Christian McBride, Stanley Clarke – bass; Paul Jackson Jr., Jef Lee Johnson – guitar; Lalah Hathaway, Rachelle Ferrell, Jeffrey Osborne, Freddie Jackson, BeBe Winans, Howard Hewitt & Teena Marie – vocals)
Contemporary jazz is one of those terms to which providing a definition is fraught with ambiguity. To the jazz purists, the almost total lack of improvisation means the word jazz is misused, and to the artists, they adhere to the belief that they are creating a sound that builds upon traditional jazz forms re-invented. All those features come together in the George Duke release DreamWeaver.
Duke’s bone fides in jazz stem from his days as a pianist in Cannonball Adderley’s band of the early ‘70s and with Sonny Rollins in the mid-’70s. By the late ‘70s, he was producing albums for a wide variety of artists in both the jazz and pop field. Over the following twenty years, Duke flirted with a number of musical styles but always seemed to find his way back to his jazz roots. However of the fifteen tracks on DreamWeaver, swinging jazz would be hard to find, as there is a heterogeneous mix of jazz-funk, pop and R&B. The title track “DreamWeaver” is meant to set the tone for the balance of the album, as it is an ethereal soundscape that is conceptually elastic.
On “Trippin’” Duke offers a vocal story of his early years in California and acts as a touchstone for his musical grounding.” Missing You” gives Duke a chance to express his love for his wife Corrine who has passed away in 2012. In the tradition of Quincy Jones’ “We Are The World” Duke gathers a choir of friends to do a gospel shout-out “Change The World”. The pace, however, picks up with the dance–friendly “Jazzmatazz”.
A voice from the past pops up on “Ball & Chain” where R&B vocalist Teena Marie delivers a heartfelt rendition of this classic. Marie, who died in 2010, had worked with Duke in the past and this track came from a new album that both artists had hoped to put together. “Burnt Sausage Jam” is a fifteen minute mash-up of funk, blues and R&B played with avid eagerness. While this session may be hard to quantify, it does have an invigorating contemporary dynamic and expressiveness.
TrackList: DreamWeaver; Stones Of Orion; Trippin’; Ash Tray; Missing You; Transition 1; Change The World; Jazzmatazz; Round The Way Girl; Transition 2; Brown Sneakers; You Never Know; Ball & Chain; Burnt Sausage Jam; Happy Trails