My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke
2014 / Concord Music
Review by Michael Debbage
Al Jarreau and the late George Duke go back many decades and My Old Friend Celebrating George Duke is Al Jarreau’s tender homage to his very dear and old friend. Collaborating with the likes of Stanley Clarke, Dr John, Boney James, Jeffrey Osborne and Marcus Miller all marquee players in and of themselves, it is not the alliances that are the draw but actually the songs of the late great George Duke that are lovingly revisited and reinterpreted by Al and company.
The album consists of ten songs of the past and there is no doubting the old school R&B and Smooth Jazz influences of Duke alongside the touch of bossa nova closer rooted to Al Jarreau who owes a portion of his success to the Duke. Of the ten songs, six are solo compositions of the Duke, three co-credits with the opening title track being the sole non credited track. However, “My Old Friend” originally appeared on one of Jarreau’s larger than life album Breakin’ Away whose album also featured the appearance of Duke. Though there is no compositional credit to Duke, the perfect lyrical content deems this song wholly appropriate to open the album.
But it is not just the opening track that is hitting on all cylinders. Check out the down and dirty bass and vocal work of Marcus Miller and Jarreau respectively on “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)” along with the muted trumpet work of Mike Cottone. And if you really want to step back into yesteryear skip forward to “Sweet Baby” featuring Lalah Hathaway’s duo with Jarreau as they sing one of Duke’s biggest hits. This top twenty hit was co-written with Stanley Clark who co- produces and performs on bass and background vocals with the updated production making the song even super smoother second time around. Equally as impressive is Jarreau’s take on Duke’s more recent “Bring Me Joy” that was featured on George’s 2010 Concorde release Déjà Vu. Here it features saxophonist Boney James as performer and producer and even the late George Duke on the keyboards. But best of all is the carnival swing of “Brazilian Love Affair/ Up From The Sea It Arose and Ate Rio In One Swift Bite”. While the song title may be a mouthful the performance is just plain and simply mouth watering with Jarreau in his complete element.
The friendship between Al and George dates as far back as the mid 60’s when they collaborated in a jazz trio together. Though Duke has since departed this world, 74 year old Al Jarreau continues to perform and record. This time around he allows us to relive the musical moments of the late great George Duke vicariously thru these gorgeous interpretation of his dear old friend.
November 23, 2014
Review by Michael Debbage