[Review] George Duke: Reach For It (1977)

In which our hero reaches for the golden ring and grabs it, becoming a funk sensation.

“I try to take funk and mix it up with my jazz. I get a lot of this funk, and it’s fun and stuff, but it’s laid on a bed of jazz. The bread is the jazz, and I just spread some funk on there, and everything is all right.” – George Duke, as quoted in a Wax Poetics article.

Kronoymth 12.0: The Duke of Tunes.

This is the album that put George Duke on the map. The sly, joyous funk of “Reach For It” became a big hit and set the stage for a string of R&B singles over the next few years. I couldn’t tell you why Duke’s high-level brand of hot funk and cool fusion suddenly clicked with audiences; maybe it has to do with how much fun he’s clearly having.

Reach For It finds Duke and his band right in the middle of the funk (“Reach For It,” “Watch Out Baby”) and the fusion (“Hot Fire,” “Omi”), sometimes blending the two in the same song (“Diamonds,” “Lemme At It”). Duke retained most of the band from his last record, replacing guitarist Mike Sembello with Charles Icarus Johnson (Johnson and Duke had played together on Stanley Clarke’s School Days) and adding percussionist Manolo Badrena (Weather Report). The new players and supporting female singers are put to good use on a few upbeat Latin fusion numbers that invite comparison to Chick Corea and Pat Metheny. Also featured here are a pair of spacy synthesizer bookends, “The Beginning” and “The End,” that make you wish the man would make an entire album of avant-garde electronica.

Duke is smart to recognize the benefits of bringing an electric guitarist into his band; I guess working with Frank Zappa will do that. Johnson does a fine job of fitting into the finely meshed gears of Duke, Ndugu and Byron Miller. For his part, Duke continues to impress with his mastery of electronic keyboards and stellar soloing. Though fusion is still the operative gameplan, Duke infuses it with funk and fun to reach new heights of happiness on Reach For It. The expanded compact disc reissue includes the instrumental “Bring It On Home,” which does just that with a winning melody.

Original LP Version

A1. The Beginning (1:50)
A2. Lemme At It (4:16)
A3. Hot Fire (Leon “Ndugu” Chancler) (5:31)
A4. Reach For It (George Duke/Byron Miller/Leon “Ndugu” Chancler/Charles Icarus Johnson) (4:53)
A5. Just For You (4:27)
B1. Ómi (Fresh Water) (4:50)
B2. Searchin’ My Mind (3:41)
B3. Watch Out Baby (George Duke/Stanley Clarke/Leon “Ndugu” Chancler/Mike Sembello) (5:23)
B4. Diamonds (6:45)
B5. The End (1:06)

All selections composed and arranged by George Duke unless noted.

CD reissue bonus track
11. Bring It On Home (4:24)

The Players

George Duke (keyboards, vocals), Manolo Badrena (congas, bongos, miscellaneous percussion) Leon “Ndugu” Chancler (drums, Remo roto-toms, timbales, vocals on A4/B3), Dee Henrichs (vocals), Charles Icarus Johnson (guitar, vocals on A4/B4), Byron Miller (bass), Deborah Thomas (vocals), Sybil Thomas (vocals) with Ms. Brazilplex (vocals on A4), Stanley Clarke (bass on B3), Raul de Souza (trombone on B1), Sister Glory Glow Fly (vocals on A4), Mike Sembello (guitar on B3). Produced by George Duke; engineered by Kerry McNabb

The Pictures

Art direction and concept by Glen Christensen. Photography by Norman Seeff.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1977 in the US (Epic, JE 34883) and Japan (Epic, 25AP-784); reached #25 on the US charts.

  1. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc and cassette in the US (Epic Legacy, ET 47042) with one bonus track.
  2. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on April 2, 2008 in Japan (Sony, EICP 977).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc on November 8, 2017 in Japan (Sony, SICJ-257).

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