When keyboardist-composer-producer George Duke made a return trip to the heyday of funk on his 2008 recording, Dukey Treats, he reminded his fans and the music press of exactly what made the good old stuff so good. DownBeat called it “a wild and crazy album, especially if you’re nostalgic about the guitar-scratching, double-clutching rhythms of James Brown and George Clinton and the bedroom ballads of Stevie Wonder and Aaron Neville.” The Philadephia Enquirer called it simply “a valentine to funk.”
Duke returns to that same wellspring for Déjà Vu. The album revisits the synthesizer sound that characterized some of his most memorable recordings from the golden age of funk and soul.
“The whole idea behind Déjà Vu was to take a look back at some of the stuff I used to do that was a little more musically challenging,” says Duke. “In some way or another, whatever happened before always comes around again. It may be a little different, but it will resurface. That’s kind of what this album is – a resurfacing of some ideas I had back in the ‘70s when I recorded albums with a lot of synthesizers, like Feel and The Aura Will Prevail.
Still, Déjà Vu does feature a few more shades of straightahead and contemporary jazz than its predecessor – as evidenced by fine guest performances throughout the record by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, flutist Hubert Laws and saxophonist Bob Sheppard. “These are three very strong instrumentalists,” says Duke. “We do it here just like we did in the old days. Everybody gets a shot at playing. It’s not just me playing a solo and then we take it out. I try to keep it a little more democratic. It’s the typical jazz scenario of the old days, where everybody gets to play.”
Déjà Vu is a glance back, but with a very contemporary sensibility – a piece of work that comes together very much in the present, but also conjures up a persistent feeling of something great that came before. “I’ve always considered myself a multi-stylistic artist,” says Duke. “I try to take people on a musical journey, whether it’s on an album or in a show. I think the style of music that you choose to play is really irrelevant, as long as you’re honest about what you’re trying to present.”