George Duke: No Rhyme, No Reason: The Elektra /Warner Years (1985-2000) is a three CD compilation that reviews the period in the fusion and funk master’s career that was typically prolific but not as rewarding in terms of the popular success the keyboardist, producer and singer/songwriter enjoyed in the 1970s and early 80s.
The compilation’s title is taken from the 1992 slow jam about repressed desire from the album Snapshot that became a Top 25 single for Duke in the fall of that year. However, the compilation title could just as easily be a metaphor for the relentlessly eclectic Duke’s desire to go wherever his furtive musical imagination took him.
Throughout his career, which sadly ended when cancer took him away from us in 2013, Duke dabbled in straight ahead acoustic jazz, fusion, Latin, synthesized 1980s funk, pop, dance tunes and ballads. He wrote songs and he showcased his underrated vocal instrument.
That eclecticism is front and center on No Rhyme, No Reason. Disc 1 includes songs like “I Surrender,” an up-tempo, sleek, synthy 80’s dance number and “Thief In the Night,” the pop infused title track that tells the story of a woman who has a penchant for seducing other women’s men. Both tracks appeared on that 1988 album.
“No Rhyme, No Reason,” a great single, appears on disc alongside the deep funk and rock guitar fusion of “560 SL” and “Fame,” a New Jack Swing styled jam that explored the dark side of our relentless pursuit of celebrity that featured vocals by multiple artists and Duke’s deft piano work.
Disc three includes the contemporary jazz cut “Summertime,” gospel ballad “Never Be Another (feat. Anointed)” and the ballad “She’s Amazing (feat. Chante Moore).” Charles Waring, the music journalist who wrote the excellent liner notes that accompany the set, noted that Duke was proud of the work that he did during this 15-year period. However, the lack of commercial success, particularly during his time at Elektra, disappointed him. Duke often felt that the labels failed to promote the albums, but he was also operating against the headwinds of changing musical tastes.
Still, Duke stayed true to his creative vision while also displaying an openness to incorporating new musical sounds into his repertoire, something that he learned from working with artists ranging from Al Jarreau to Frank Zappa. No Rhyme, No Reason: The Elektra/Warner Years is a welcome exploration of the music this legend made during a tragically slept on period of his great career. Recommended.
By Howard Dukes