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Steely Dan - Aja CD (album) cover

AJA

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.10 | 185 ratings

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Greta007
4 stars I think this album is a little overrated, that is, it's superb but IMO not quite an out-and-out masterpiece, apart from the title track which I rate up there withe Starless, And You and I and Karneval 9 for top-drawer prog.

Still, it's nice to see the Steelies here, recognising their originality and talent.

I expect a fair bit of commentary about the album so I'll add a few snippets that are relevant, especially from a drummer's or drum fan's point of view.

Overall, the sound is as slick as anything you'll hear, ultra-smooth jazziness abounds. At first listen many moons ago I thought it was too smooth, but I've came around and it was always on my turntable full blast as I drove my neighbours mad drumming along to it. (Literally mad. During one band practice a neighbour came around crying and actually screaming ... turns out she was bipolar but I did practice an awful lot back then *evil laugh*).

My piont, however, is that Steely Dan are the subtlest of bands, and more than any of SD's previous albums you need to look at the detail - the lyrics, chord structures, harmonies and the sneaky bits slipped in by all instruments - to notice the subversiveness.

The exception is the title track, which is for the most part out-and-out prog fusion - long, intensely complex in melody, harmony, structure and dynamics, and featuring virtuoso performances from Weather Report's Wayne Shorter on sax and top session man, Steve Gadd on traps.

'Peg', on first glance, is a simple pop song. However, Rick Marotta's drumming on the track is legendary in the drum fraternity. Like Terry Bozzio's much-loved mayhem in 'Black Page', Rick's drumming on Peg is one of those drum lines that stick wielders keep trying to replicate and put in YouTube. And, as with the much more overtly difficult Zappa number, the comments from viewers are invariably, 'Nice try, but ...'. It's seemingly so simple but almost impossible to replicate while holding the groove down. Apparently Donald and Walter went through a gaggle of drummers laying down tracks and none quite did it for them until Rick M walked in and nailed it.

'Josie' is an interesting number. It starts with an eerie riff before doin' the funk thang. Great groove, then a gorgeous interlude leads into a tasty guitar solo. Another bridge, then back to the eerie riff and, typical of the subversiveness of The Dans, a 7-count drum fill (also legendary within certain drummer circles for its awkward pseudo-simplicity) leading to a brass section outro.

Title track aside, 'Aja' seems to be based on a similar philosophy to that of Brian Eno; the album is as ignorable as it is listenable. I read an Amazon review by someone who thought it was musical wallpaper. Obviously that was one listener who's more interested in the overt than the subtle. Horses for courses ...

Greta007 | 4/5 |

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