George Duke doesn't make a lot of appearances in clubs, more commonly turning up in large-venue engagements--most recently at Universal Amphitheatre with the Montreux 2000 all-star show. Every couple of years or so, however, he seems to feel the need to get into the trenches, experience some direct contact with his fans, and enjoy the casual, free-spirited atmosphere of a gig in a jazz room.
Tuesday night, he turned up at Catalina Bar & Grill, accompanied by four frequent associates--guitarist Ray Fuller, bassist Larry Kimpel, keyboardist David Kochanski and drummer Ndugu Chancler--obviously determined to enjoy an evening of musical spontaneity.
Seated at the grand piano, surrounded as well by a rack of electronic keyboards, Duke was a commanding presence. As large in spirit and manner as he is in girth, he was equally gregarious and witty. After more than three decades of activity in virtually every aspect of the music business, he could--and did--call upon a treasure trove of memories in his often whimsical between-tunes comments.
And although he emphasized a few tunes from his new Grammy-nominated album, "Cool," he approached his program with the same sort of stream-of-consciousness process, asking if there was anything anyone wanted to hear, suddenly deciding upon this tune or that, often tossing in references to other material.