"What happened to the fun and comedy in R&B?" Marin City-bred keyboardist George Duke asks on his web site. He offers an answer with Dukey Treats, a virtuosic, joy-filled salute to such old-school soul greats as Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Duke wrote all dozen tunes on the disc, blending retro flavors into a refreshing mix of sounds that sparkle with a jazz-derived sense of adventure and a spirit of irreverence no doubt inspired by his early '70s stint with Frank Zappa.
As he has throughout his three decades as one of Southern California's top record producers, Duke called on some of the word's most accomplished instrumentalists and vocalists for the project. The personnel, which varies from track to track, includes guitarists Jef Lee Johnson, Wah Wah Watson, and John "Jubu" Smith; bassists Michael Manson, Byron Miller, Christian McBride, and Wayman Tisdale; drummers Ron Bruner Jr., Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, and Vinnie Colauta; percussionist Sheila E.; trumpeter Michael "Patches" Stewart; saxophonist Kamsai Washington; and singers Rachelle Ferrell, Lori Perry, Howard Hewett, Jonathan Butler, and Teena Marie. Unlike many of Duke's more commercially oriented productions, this is a looser affair on which most participants are given plenty of room to stretch. Bruner, best known for his work with Stanley Clarke, is particularly awesome as he weaves complex kick-ass syncopations around the funk grooves of the Sly-styled "Everyday Hero."
The CD also has some serious sides. Duke sings in a high, sweet tenor on the Gaye-imbued love ballad "Listen Baby" and addresses the ongoing genocide in Darfur on "Sudan (It's a Cryin' Shame)," during which Butler asks, "Is it Rwanda again, blacks killing blacks, who wins?" (Heads Up)
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