After his wife of over forty years, Corine, passed away in 2012, it took George Duke several months to regain musical inspiration. Following an evening spent enjoying the art of other musicians while vacationing on a cruise ship, he sat on his deck in wait of the sunrise when inspiration began to return. Much like this wave of ideas that flowed into Duke’s mind, DreamWeaver’s title track begins with a soft, synth-fueled wave from which second track “Stones of Orion” emerges, a light instrumental number that includes a four-piece horn section (including flute), Stanley Clarke on bass, and Duke twinkling on keys. Beyond, Duke fondly remembers his late wife on tracks like “Missing You” — whose lyrics were rewritten from a direct, autobiographical standpoint to a more general subject as vocalist Rachelle Ferrell took over vocal duties — and deluxe album closer “Happy Trails,” a cover of the 1950s theme song by Dale Evans and Roy Rogers. However, the album as a whole is more celebratory than grieving: despite Duke’s inevitable heartache, DreamWeaver includes several upbeat, funky instrumental sections and hopeful, forward-moving moments on “Change The World” and “Round The Way Girl,” in which Duke rekindles his romantic flame.
In addition to the remembrance of his wife, Duke reflects on his love and discovery of music. A mix of genres weave into the sound of the album: R&B, jazz, funk, adult contemporary soul, and spoken word are all represented, and Duke lays synthesizer lines over many of the tracks. With vocals harmonized on the octave and solos on muted trumpet and guitar, early standout “Trippin'” looks back at Duke’s childhood and the musical influence spread by his neighbor, a jazz aficionado. Further into the album, these genres are woven together between an introduction and two transitional interludes, and the threads that compose DreamWeaver are host to a vast number of collaborators, including vocalist Lalah Hathaway, bassist Christian McBride, and one of the final recordings from R&B icon Teena Marie. Along with the instrumental introduction, several of the album’s thirteen tracks offer moments for them and many other musicians to take the spotlight.
While DreamWeaver stretches to nearly all of the eighty-minute length of a physical CD, several moments could be benefited with less length. The fifteen-minute “Burnt Sausage Jam” slips fluidly through three movements of instrumental funk which, while engaging in the short term, often grow repetitive with minutes to spare. The same conclusion can be made for rock-leaning “Brown Sneakers,” whose six-minute length fails to hold interest with the same pace and energy that earlier, shorter standout “AshTray” achieves. This is not to take away from the musical finesse of Duke and his many well-known collaborators, all of whom perform and vibe together with evident skill, highlighted in moments like the guitar and trumpet trades of “Jazzmatazz” and the electric guitar solo on the first half of “Brown Speakers.”
These moments of repetition, however, do not keep DreamWeaver from being a celebratory, enjoyable body of work than spans multiple styles of music. George Duke’s final album is a formidable collection forged in fond remembrance of lengthy relationships with the wife and music that he loved.