When an opportunity arises to regard veteran fusioneer George Duke's decidedly commercial latter-day endeavors, it's not a desirable one. Nowadays, the glossy-looking albums in the bins bear little resemblance to what the Duke cooked up in his '70s prime-time. Before he wrote ditties to snap your fingers to, George made music to sink your mind into. A few of his best records still haven't resurfaced in digital format, or are out of print, but all is not lost: George recorded several albums in the mid-70s for MPS Records, of which this reissue of The 1976 Keyboard Album is the last. The seven selections here are a fusion keyboard lover's wet dream, assembled with the coolest analog monosynths — Minimoog and ARP Odyssey — of the time (and later, a Prophet V), plus the usual: acoustic piano, Rhodes, Wurly, B3, and (of course) a Clavinet. George also played guitar and drums, making this an authentic one-man affair to file next to Jan Hammer's The First Seven Days.
The Duke opens up with a volley of Minimoog notes on "Mr. McFreeze," continuing on with several long stretches of soloing on the Mini, Odyssey, and Fender Rhodes atop a bed of alternately hectic and groovy drumming and bassing. A marvel of a track! Both solo piano pieces, "Love Reborn" and "The Dream Has Ended," are two of the most beautiful-sounding of their kind, neither is sugary nor contrived, simply a blueprint for many other reasonably complex yet nonextravagant piano comps. "Excerpts From The Opera Tzina" is just that, a recreation of segments from Duke's opera, a soothing pastiche of synthesizer-cast fragrances. "Spock Gets Funky" is three minutes of prime "funksion" powered by slap bass, synth bass, and a steamy dual acoustic & Wurlitzer electric piano improv. "Pathways" was also a solopiano treatment that received a topping of Prophet V in preparation for the album's rerelease in 1980 — it would work just fine either way, but the orchestral synth accompaniments are kosher. "Vulcan Mind Probe" could double as a Hammer composition with little or no effort: all of the right synth sounds and licks are in place — another winner.
The one bad thing concerning this reissue: no bonus tracks! Where are they? This is a near-perfect collection, but it ends much too soon. Wounded Bird is a busy little robin, and maybe the label will do us another favor and kick out a second (and third) collection of vintage Duke.