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George Duke - The Aura Will Prevail CD (album) cover

THE AURA WILL PREVAIL

George Duke

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.95 | 13 ratings

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SonomaComa1999
2 stars REVIEW #2 - "The Aura Will Prevail" by George Duke (1975). 5/6/2018

Coming off my first review of Zappa's 1974 "Apostrophe" album, I was particularly struck by the song "Uncle Remus" from that album. The song was written by both Zappa and pianist George Duke, who was born just thirty miles south of where I live in San Rafael, California. Given how Eurocentric the progressive rock genre is as a whole, I found it exciting to be able to review a local artist. Duke's solo work lives entirely in the realm of jazz fusion, in the vein of Jean-Luc Ponty or Weather Report. My first exposure to fusion was when I began collecting LPs in the winter of 2014. I used to comb all of the local thrift shops in my hometown of Petaluma, searching for listenable records to test out on my cheap $60 console turntable that I bought at Target. One store in particular in the heart of the city was partly run by a man who sold his own records and would give me weekly recommendations as to what I should listen to.

It was thanks to this man that I was introduced to King Crimson as a 15-year old kid, as well as other pioneering prog rock bands such as Yes, Genesis, and even Van der Graaf Generation. Better yet, he recommended a lot of jazz fusion albums to me which I promptly put into my collection, even though they never got as much airtime as "Close to the Edge" or "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway". I was introduced to Ponty, Weather Report, Return to Forever and many more - so jazz fusion does hold a place in my heart. George Duke was a prolific songwriter, releasing numerous albums over his musical career in addition to working with guys like Zappa. I chose his 1975 album "The Aura Will Prevail" since it contains his own cover of the aforementioned Zappa work "Uncle Remus."

The album opens up with the instrumental fusion staple "Dawn". Apart from being a mellow and open tune, it is a rather generic example of what fusion brings to the table. It has a solid main theme, and makes use of the synthesizer quite heavily - something which is gonna be a recurrent theme on this album. We move away from the traditional realm of fusion and into the more commercially friendly and lyrical "For Love (I Come Your Friend)" which is just too sugary for my tastes, although I do admit I woke up this morning with the chorus in my head, so I suppose the song does a great job in that regard. It is a fast-paced poppy love tune featuring Duke on lead vocals - it is by no means progressive in any way. Another reviewer on this site noted how the music on this album is bordering on "easy-listening" status, which I wholeheartedly come to agree with as we inch closer and closer to the end of mainstream prog. Here in Sonoma, we would hear this type of music on the soft jazz 93.7FM rather than the classic rock/occasional prog 97.7FM which I indulge in.

"Foosh" doesn't do any better to break the monotony with its mellow and somewhat mischievous tempo. Following "For Love" dead in the middle of the first side, it seems like it was intended to serve as a prelude to the longer and more prominent "Floop De Loop" which is by far the most musically challenging piece of the album. Coming in at 6:43, Duke and his band make better use of their musical talents to appease the more radical prog listener. However, the entire piece just does not resonate with me, meaning it is all too forgettable for my tastes, despite it being what I would consider a decent instrumental showcase. I tried to recall the musical motifs after listening to the entire album numerous times, but I could not come away with anything more than the group playing a long instrumental that was a bit more complex than the rest of the album. At this point, it seems like this album would only be fit for a completionist, but fortunately we still have not come across the "Uncle Remus" cover which I thought might be able to salvage the album.

Opening up the second side of "The Aura Will Prevail" is "Malibu", which features a bit more of a Latin influence, with some exotic percussion and wordless vocals supported by a rather nice-sounding bassline. For some reason this style reminded me a little bit of one of the songs that came off of Camel's debut album, even though I attributed that connection to being a total fluke. As for the song in its entirety, it is another pretty generic fusion staple similar to the album's opener, and while it is not bad per se, it is altogether forgettable just like the rest of the album. "Fools" is another poppy vocal piece which turned me away right after I got into the groove of the album's Latin fusion style. Another reviewer proclaimed that this song was better off found on a Barry White album, which gave me a good laugh - however, I kind of agree with him, as this song veers off the track of prog with "For Love". I'm not saying that his song is awful - both the pop offerings are catchy in their own right, but given I am looking for musically challenging material on a fusion album, I feel almost cheated as Duke moves off into the mainstream midway through the decade. I could see my grandfather, who is a devout listener of R&B and soul having grown up in San Francisco and Oakland in the 1950s through 1970s, listening to this music more than I, and he absolutely detests rock and roll.

The next two songs on the album are pretty intriguing; they are both covers of Frank Zappa songs. Of course, "Uncle Remus" is the latter, but Duke puts the instrumental "Echidna's Arf" on this album, which was a bit surprising. I was actually rather excited to see what Duke would do on this piece given it is a rather fast-paced composition that Zappa played with the Mothers of Invention. On this album, it starts off at a breakneck pace but to my horror, it devolves into a space-rock tier synthesizer showcase which hardly continues on the themes of the piece when played in Zappa's band. In fact, it actually disappointed me that Duke took this route with the song, given that there was an opportunity to go in many positive directions with the piece. Fortunately "Echidna's Arf" isn't a long song being only 3:35, and it feels like Duke is trying to make this one another prelude into "Uncle Remus", which totally feels wrong. First of all, Duke's rendition of "Remus" is much softer and balladic than Zappa's 1974 version, and the spacey introduction does not segue well into it at all. That being said, the cover which I had so long awaited turns out to be the distinct highlight of the album, with Duke not going overboard on the pitch of his vocals; keeping it brisk and cool, which works much better. I feel that if the entire album followed this theme, it would have warranted a better reception. However, I still prefer the original's fast pace, backing vocals, and brutal guitar solo coda. This version is better listened to in a melancholy atmosphere, while you can rock out to Zappa's version.

There is a small closing piece titled "The Aura" but it is moreover a continuation of the fusion themes seen on "Dawn" and "Malibu". Otherwise, that is really it from this album, which I can sum up as mediocre. The only real saving grace for this album from being a one-star is the "Remus" cover which is memorable and listenable. George Duke was a very talented pianist and had a great role in Zappa's band, as well as a prolific solo career, but his 1975 offering just comes off as a generic and forgettable fusion record. I could justify devout fans of the fusion genre being somewhat interested in the rest of the contents on this LP, but overall I think that we all come to this record to listen to Duke's rendition of two Zappa works - it gets a 2-star (63% D-) from me, one song away from being a wash. Only listen for "Uncle Remus", and that's if you're a fan of more mellow music.

SonomaComa1999 | 2/5 |

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