After years of producing albums which were more pop/funk than jazz oriented, George Duke simmers down, leaves off the R&B vocals, and takes a little creative license on the self-proclaimed "mood record" After Hours. While his recent Muir Woods Suite showed off his affinity for classical music, here he's at his best on the meditative Vince Guaraldi-type trio ballads "Together as One" and "Sweet Dreams," which glide along on the improvisational and gently swinging graces of Christian McBride and Leon "Ndugu" Chancler. A whole project in this vein would have been welcome, but Duke charters other new territory, too; on the easy grooving "The Touch" and the almost new agey "From Dusk Till Dawn," he borrows the actual Rhodes from Joe Sample but winds up perfectly simulating Bob James' "Taxi" vibe, especially on the exploratory solo on the latter tune. The untrained ear might swear it's an actual James recording, but Duke's a clever enough producer to go beyond strict imitation. "The Touch" achieves an intriguing low-toned brew, as Sheridon Stokes' bass flute melody drifts gently over a hypnotic weave of Larry Kimpel's bass and Duke's Rhodes.
"After Hours" has become a widespread calling card for the area between midnight and twilight, when all the city falls asleep except for a collective of nocturnal beings. A whole new range of attitudes - diverse styles, open perception. After Hours is when the machine turns off -and when the mind turns on. In musical terms, it is the region outside categorization, the music that slips beyond the average stream of beats. It's not based on any beat pattern. After Hours is not ambient; nor is it acid-jazz, it's the area that exists in the gray area between them. Too quirky to hold any cliches too tightly; too loose for any grand agendas. After Hours eases the mind, softens the palette and opens the door to a new day.