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2005-04-06

BLUE NOTES By Buddy Blue

This week, I'm thrilled as a Republican congressman in a terminal care hospice to report that singer/guitarist extraordinaire Tommy Castro has returned home to Blind Pig Records. My fave modern blue-eyed soulman had been bumping around from label to label for the past several years, releasing, well, adequate CDs, but nothing approaching the tuff, old-school scorch evinced on his great Pig platters of yore. Were these other, non-porcine labels tampering with Castro's perfect formula? Can't say I rightly know, but the important thing is that the Castro/Blind Pig reunion has resulted in our hero's best-yet effort, which is saying much indeed, in the just-released, aptly-titled "Soul Shaker." Highlights include "The Holdin' On," which storms your stereo like a prime Wilson Pickett (not bad for a white boy from San Jose), "Let's Give Love A Try," a new butt-rock anthem for the ages; "Anytime Soon," which gives Southside Johnny a run for his money, and "Big Love," which features the greasiest proto-funk guitar lick you'll hear this side of Catfish Collins. Pick this sucker up, crank it till the neighbors pelt your house with hambones and dig maestro Castro in concert, Friday night at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

Slash frustrates the whatsiz outta me. Here's maybe the finest mainstream-friendly rock & roll guitarist to maul a Les Paul in the past 20 years, yet for reasons that elude me, Cousin Itt insists on hooking up with prissy-junkie-diva rawk star frontmen whose insipid caterwauling and catalog of girlish conceits mitigate all gratification to be otherwise gleaned from his work. Okay, so Scott Weiland may - may, I say - be slightly - slightly, I say - less deserving of a Doc Marten enema than Axl at the end of the day, but that's like saying you're grateful to bite into a rat's head instead a human thumb when scarfing your next Wendy's burger. Oh well. Velvet Revolver plays Coors Amphitheater in Chula Vista on Tuesday night, but I'm boycotting Slash until he hooks up with a Castro or a Pickett or a Southside or someone, anyone, whose talent and personality (Slash is among the least pretentious big name rockers you'll ever meet) warrants partnership.

You've gotta wonder how Red Holloway feels, getting tagged with that "Father Of Acid Jazz" handle all the time. Yeah, the veteran, thick-toned tenor/alto saxman is perhaps best-known for his jazz/R&B work, but he's equally accomplished and at home playing straight ahead bop or singing and blowing blues with all the cool finesse of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. He's combined over the years with a dazzling array of heavies including bluesmen Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Roosevelt Sykes, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Memphis Slim on the one hand; jazz cats Sonny Stitt, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, Wardell Gray and Ben Webster on the other - and that's just scratching the surface. Yet after more than 60 years of service, Holloway is to be held personally responsible for the likes of Greyboy, Corduroy and Stereo MC's? Oh well, the important thing is that, pushing 80, Holloway is still on the scene, shouting and blowing with tireless authority, and will appear Tuesday night at San Diego City College for the latest installment of Jazz 88's "Jazz Live" series.

Note to Slipknot (Friday night at Cox Arena): 1.) Country Dick called his fans "maggots" when you preppie weaklings were still in your Huggies. 2.) Despite your protestations, it takes a rare brand of lameness to come off as a bad GWAR imitation. 3.) If G.G. Allin were still alive, he'd hunt you down, hack you to bits and feed the chunks to his groupies.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> By Buddy Blue

If you don't know quite what to make of George Duke, you're hardly alone. The brilliant keyboardist cut

his teeth as one of Frank Zappa's longest-tenured and most valuable sidemen; he worked with such elites as Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins and Quincy Jones; he was a key player in both the funk and jazz fusion movements.

Then, with his reputation peaking around 1980, Duke largely retreated from the spotlight to forge a second, more lucrative career as a producer, arranger, musical director and composer. While much of his work in this milieu remained superb, Duke devoted an equal amount of effort abetting disco, smooth jazz and adult contemporary lightweights - Deniece Williams, Najee and Melissa Manchester, to name a few glaring culprits.

Duke still managed the odd solo album here and there throughout the '80s and '90s, but none managed to completely re-summon his early cred as an audacious virtuoso; critics branded him a sell-out. At times the barbs were warranted, at others unjust. Say what you will about his more curious collusions, but Duke stamps every project he undertakes with meticulous professionalism and often-inspired ideas.

After a couple decades of playing it safe and second-fiddle, Duke started up his own record label, BPM, in 2002. BPM's maiden release, "Face The Music," was a revelatory return to top form. Jazz-driven yet distinctive, funky yet categorically entertaining, this was the master's finest hour since he first came to the fore.

"That's why I started my own label, so I can do things like that," Duke says. "At this point in my life - somewhere between album number 30 to 35 - I owe it to myself to not have to do what other people think I should do. It's very difficult for me to keep one vibe through a record, because I tend to get bored easily. That had a lot to do with me working with Zappa. Even though my music is quite different than Frank's, we both like the idea of being able to throw wrenches into songs, have things evolve in different ways."

Curiously, BPM's just-released "Duke" returns to a far more mainstream sensibility. Typically diverse, the album has its share of transcendent music - the 20-minute workout "Hybrids," for example, is a funk- jazz extrapolation that surely has Miles Davis smiling somewhere. Elsewhere, though, odd juxtapositions of R&B lite, smooth jazz and M.O.R. pop chafe the nerves.

"There was no central theme for this album," explains Duke. "It's not like I was saying, 'I want to have a smooth jazz hit, I want something for the urban contemporary market, I have to have this song for dancers.'

"However, I'm not crazy. Everything I do is tempered by an awareness of what's going on around us, what's being played on the radio, but I try not to lose my musical integrity. Hopefully, there's always something musical in everything I do. I try to insert expertise into it and make sure it's played very well.

"Anyway, this album was recorded six or seven months ago and it's already old to me. I'm looking forward to the next one and going somewhere I haven't been before."

Happily, Duke's past refusal to linger in one m├ętier has been supplanted by a renewed enthusiasm for performance. If this decision was borne of necessity as much as self-confidence, no matter: Duke's chameleonic nature will carry him to new musical worlds, some of which will showcase his magnificently adventurous side.

"I kind of neglected being an artist for 20 years and just went into the studio to produce other peoples' records," Duke says. "But the climate has changed now -- there's not as much work as there used to be for me as a producer. The people I used to have hits with don't even have record deals anymore.

"The business has changed, but I predicted it and that's why I started this company. This is like developing a career all over again, and it's really interesting. I'm doing a lot more touring, there's an immediate response from a live audience that I missed, and I'm really digging it."

George Duke, April 7th at Sycuan Casino, 5469 Casino Way in El Cajon, 8 PM, $40, (619) 445-6002. Brenda Russell will also perform.