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Steely Dan - Aja CD (album) cover

AJA

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.08 | 180 ratings

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Rivertree
Special Collaborator
Psych/Space Team & Band Submissions
4 stars It took quite a long time until I began to listen to my Steely Dan stuff again because it was pushed into the background by other music spontaneously in the past. I'm really convinced of the album's high standard. They started off in 1972 with catchy sophisticated soul and jazz drenched rock/pop music. First of all during the 70/80's they were highlights on parties and filled the dance floors with the debut album hit 'Do it again' and 'Rikki don't lose that number' from the album 'Pretzel Logic'. Donald Fagan and Walter Becker as the masterminds began to expand and modify their style noticably with their next album 'Countdown to Ecstasy'. 'Aja' from 1977 won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording and is the one with the most leanings to progressive rock for me.

Fagan and Becker are known for their meticolous work and the strong intention to reach perfectionism. They even have been able to drive some musicians to desperation whilst recording the songs. But it worked finally. This album proves their songwriting capabilities at the creative peak and they gathered the who is who of jazz (rock) for the recordings - for example Larry Carlton and Joe Sample (Crusaders) or such as Michael McDonald who is one of my alltime favourite vocalists. Speaking of vocals - they always have a dominant role in their albums and 'Aja' is not an exception even though we have longer instrumental passages here and there.

The lyrics don't contain very substantial messages - or they are using metaphors and I don't get it. The opener Black Cow for instance is expressing some sadness dealing with the common subject drug use - 'You were high, it was a cryin disgrace' - and of course with this special eponymous drink - vanilla ice cream combined with root beer - which I've never tried in my life (probably I have to come to the States for that?). Musically a typical SD track I would say - jazzy electric piano and brass dominated and comparable with the Crusaders output.

My favourite track Aja is truly prog, varied, fusion infected and nearly epic with a complex structure and more instrumental portions featuring Wayne Shorter delivering a great saxophone solo - extraordinary drum playing by Steve Gadd included. When you use your headphones you are able to catch all the details without being diverted - a moment of glory. Deacon Blues a very smooth jazzy song is often noticed as another album highlight and for the sake of clarity I listened to it again and again but can't approve this. A nice mellow one but also mainstream all through.

After that the band comes back to familiar surroundings - groovy songs with a high ratio of jazz are following, excellently arranged with catchy melodies and technically skillful without any doubt - Peg for example is convincing with the help of some well-known backing vocalists and together with Josie they are really candidates for animating people to enter the dance floor on your party.

Great album. An extensive prog rock collection should also contain some related examples though - why not? Four stars are well deserved for this extraordinary album.

Rivertree | 4/5 |

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