CHARLES J. GANS
George Duke, "DreamWeaver" (Heads Up International)
George Duke was left devastated by the death of his wife, Corine, from cancer a year ago and unable to make music for months, but the keyboardist and composer eventually overcame his grief to create an inspiring collection of mostly original compositions called "DreamWeaver." He weaves together the eclectic threads of his 40-plus year musical career: acoustic jazz, electronic jazz-rock fusion, funk, R&B and soul.
The mid-tempo "Stones of Orion," which pairs Duke on acoustic piano with longtime collaborator Stanley Clarke on upright bass, is a gently swinging modern jazz composition that recalls his early days with Cannonball Adderley's band. Duke's distinctive ability to make vintage synthesizers -- the ARP Odyssey, Minimoog, clavinet and Prophet 5 -- sound bluesy and funky comes through on the 15-minute "Burnt Sausage Jam."
Duke also assembled an impressive lineup of soul and R&B vocalists, including Lalah Hathaway, Jeffrey Osborne and BeBe Winans on the uplifting, gospel-influenced "Change the World," which takes after Michael Jackson's "We Are the World." ''Ball & Chain," written by Teena Marie for a jazz album she planned with Duke, is one of the late powerhouse singer's last recorded performances.
Duke expresses his love for his late wife on the tender, piano-driven ballad "Missing You," a romantic vocal duet with Rachelle Ferrell. The album ends by turning the cowboy ballad "Happy Trails" -- Dale Evans' closing theme to "The Roy Rogers Show" -- into a soulful, heartfelt farewell to his wife, made even more poignant by the sudden death of guitarist Jef Lee Johnson shortly after he recorded the fadeout guitar solo.
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