[Review] George Duke: Master of the Game (1979)

Another funk record, as the alien succumbs to the gravitational pull of the radio.

Kronomyth 15.0: Reaching (a saturation point) for it.

This is George Duke’s fourth foray into the field of funk, adding two more R&B hits in the bargain, “Every Little Step I Take” and an edited version of “I Want You For Myself.” It’s a smooth affair, featuring more prominent horns and percussion and vocals by a committee of Duke, Lynn Davis, Napoleon Brock and Josie James. Missing are the sharp sense of humor and fusion fantasies from his earlier works, which turned me off to this record a little in the beginning. The two-part alien sequence at the end, for example, isn’t as funky or funny as it could have been.

Master of the Game starts out with the Latin fusion of “Look What You Find,” one of several songs to showcase Sheila Escovedo’s propulsive percussion (she also gets a cowriting credit on “Games” and steals the show on the instrumental “Dog-Man”). Those who haven’t experienced the funktastic side of George Duke would be better served by Reach For It or Follow The Rainbow. “Party Down” from Rainbow was a lesson in how to get a party started. “Look What You Find” is horny space funk spiced with Latin percussion and wisdom—interesting, but a mixed invitation.

Honestly, funk needed a new way forward in 1979. The answer would come in hip-hop (The Sugarhill Gang) and new wave (Prince). You won’t find the answer on Master of the Game, just more of the same old funk in fresh packaging. You can hear some of that future in “I Love You More,” a song that prefigures the music of Scritti Politti by a few years. Master of the Game isn’t George Duke at the top of his game, but you can forgive him for rush-releasing another record at the peak of his popularity. It’s still an easy album to listen to and enjoy, a fitting companion in the funkography of Duke and a fine funk citizen for  1979.

Original LP Version

A1. Look What You Find (4:43)
A2. Every Little Step I Take (3:48)
A3. Games (George Duke/Sheila Escovedo) (3:13)
A4. I Want You For Myself (6:36)
A5. In The Distance (2:19)
B1. I Love You More (3:05)
B2. Dog-Man (4:39)
B3. Everybody’s Talkin’ (4:18)
B4. Part 1: The Alien Challenges The Stick / Part 2: The Alien Succumbs To The Macho Intergalactic Funketivity of the Funkblasters (George Duke/Byron Miller/Ricky Lawson/David Myles) (9:18)

All songs written by George Duke unless noted.

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. I Want You For Myself (single edit)
11. Every Little Step I Take (single edit)

The Plastic

George Duke (vocals, electric piano, clavinet, synthesizers, bells), Napoleon Brock (vocals), Lynn Davis (vocals), Sheila Escovedo (percussion, drums), Gary Herbig (alto & tenor saxophone, piccolo flute), Jerry Hey (trumpet, flugelhorn), Josie James (vocals), Ricky Lawson (drums), Byron Miller (bass), David Myles (guitars, sitar), Bill Reichenbach (bass trombone) with Roland Bautista (guitar on B3), Cary Grant (trumpet on B2), Ray Obeido (guitar on A3), Fred Washington (bass on A3). Produced by George Duke; engineered by Tommy Vicari.

The Pictures

Front cover art by David Fisher.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in November 1979 in the US (Epic, JE 36263) and Germany (Epic, EPC 32275) with picture innersleeve; reached #125 on the US charts and #18 on the US R&B charts.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Epic, EK 36263).
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc in Europe (Columbia Jazz, 471233-2).
  3. Re-released on expanded remastered compact disc in 2011 in the US (Soulmusic) and the UK (Cherry Red, SMCR5030) with 2 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-released on expanded Blu-Spec compact disc on February 12, 2014 in Japan (Epic, EICP-30036) with 2 bonus tracks.
  5. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee on September 28, 2015 in the US (Music on Vinyl, MOVLP 1341).

2 thoughts on “[Review] George Duke: Master of the Game (1979)

  1. Dave – Great work all around! I appreciate your focus on the Zappa/Duke/Clarke/RTF genealogy, as I am finally ripping all my old vinyl to digital, and have many of these in my collection. I suggest checking out the 1980 Brecker Brothers release, Detente, produced by George Duke for his GD Enterprises. It has likely one of the most comprehensive and diverse list of players imaginable, including vocal contributions by Luther Vandross and Irene Cara, to name a few.

    It is noteworthy (I believe) that although Duke plays on a few tracks, he yields a lot of the keyboard work to Mark Gray and Don Grolnick, keeping his focus on the other side of the glass. It is a crossroads of influences from many directions, and I’m not aware of anything else with a comparable sound from that time. See what you think!

    1. Thanks, Joe. I’ll have to check it out. Given how good the self-produced Duke albums sounded, I’m surprised I don’t see his name come up more as a producer.

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