Master Composers: George Duke put his own personal stamp in visiting Rio


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George Duke was known as a pioneer in using the keyboard, in addition to being an awesome singer and composer.  He appeared in both the genres of jazz and mainstream radio.  He worked with many varied artists as music director, arranger, writer and sometimes even as a co-writer, record producer and as a professor of music.

He lived from January 12, 1946 until chronic lymphocytic leukemia took his life at the age of 67 on August 5, 2013.

Out of his over 30 albums that he produced, the 1980 title highlighted above from CBS Records was his singular gem.  By combining elements that were popular in the era of Lonnie Liston Smith meeting the crew that produced the memorable score from the movie Shaft, George Duke brought a refreshing style that would turn this album into a classic.

The title track is a whopping seven minutes and 22 seconds long, but it painted quite a cool picture on what tourists expect each time they visit Rio.    But probably the best lyrics of all appear around the third minute:

“I found a lover

By the seaside

With sexy brown skin and haunting eyes”

Another verse teases even more:

“Sandy beaches

Cooling breezes

Sexy women calling to you–for you”


The percussion was done masterfully by Airto (that was his real name).  By the time we reach the third track, his first foray into Portuguese brought on Milton Nascimento leading a team of five vocalists on “Cravo E Canela” (translated meaning, “Clove and Cinnamon”, two popular kitchen spices used in cooking).

The pace is quick throughout those three minutes, but it does not make the listener feel rushed unlike some of my past reviews.  A piano solo dominates Track 4, “Alone–6 A.M.” but Raul de Souza brings on plenty of trombone on a fast moving Track 5, “Brazilian Sugar.”

But perhaps the song he is best known for was named after one of Rio’s most famous landmarks.  “Sugarloaf Mountain” clocks in at just over four minutes, but it feels like a movie score that could have been used on popular CBS shows of that era including the likes of Trapper John, M.D., or Magnum, P.I.

Three of the final four songs are very slow in tempo, nice for relaxing on a weekend.  There is also a bonus track called “Caxanga” (no translation given), a nice snappy tune that belongs in the category of tapping your toes or clapping your hands to the steady, consistent beat.

In the first page of the short liner notes, George Duke explained his reasoning on why he did this album:

“It is not a pure Brazilian recording but rather a blend of Brazilian musical concepts with the diverse musical ideas of my mind.  For most of the selections, I have intermixed Brazilian artists with American artists to achieve a true fusion of the styles–I love disparity!”

No song explains that concept very well than on Track 6.

Here is the song in its’ purest glory:

He may have left this world way too soon, but his music will certainly never be forgotten by those who collaborated with him from the likes of Al Jarreau and Flora Purim, and dozens of other artists throughout the 1960’s into the 1980’s.

For those living in the United States, please have a safe Memorial Day holiday weekend.


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