Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It's about time George Duke turned up in town leading his own band. His brilliant keyboard work has been featured with so many people in so many situations - live with Billy Cobham and Frank Zappa, on record with Stanley Clarke and Flora Purim - that there was no question he'd have a ready-made audience once he decided to go solo.
But who would have expected Duke, who will be appearing with comedian Ron Douglas at The Cellar Door through Sunday, to have assembled such a splendid band in so short a time? Duke's group, which is anchored by the old Santana rhythm section, drummer Leon Ndugu Chancler and bassist Byron Miller, is a unit with as much energy and musical intelligence as its leader.
That's what makes it hard to understand why Duke even bothers with words. He's a terrible vocalist, whether imitating Boosty Collins on "You and Me," or singing falsetto on "Love," and his lyrics are such claptrap that they weaken rather than enhance the group's jazz-rock repertoire.
But when Duke shuts up - and orders his three female back-up singers to pick up percussion instruments - the results can be truly impressive. The unnamed and as yet unrecorded Chancler tune that closed Wednesday night's first set, a bouncy salsa instrumental, found Duke playing piano - and Chancler pounding away on timbales - with the kind of enthusiam and funk rarely encountered outside Latin dance halls.
Also notable was Duke's use of the marvelous Yamaha electric piano, which has been on the market only a few months but is already threatening to make the Fender Rhodes obsolete. Although Duke is probably best known for his manipulation of synthesizers, the quickness with which he has integrated the Yamaha into his act suggests that he will soon be hailed as the master of that revolutionary new instrument.