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Steely Dan - Classic Albums: Aja CD (album) cover


Steely Dan

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is an excellent, albeit short, documentary on the making of the watershed Steely Dan album "Aja." Like the others in the "Classic Album" series of DVDs, the program is split between performance, interviews, and our heroes themselves sitting at the sound board dissecting these legendary tracks.

The performances are presented in the studio setting and feature Fagen and Becker along with 4 or so of the players from the sessions presumably in the late 1990s. "Peg" and "Josie" are presented in their entirety but in an instrumental treatment without even the lead vocals and also without horns. They are pleasant to be sure but I would have preferred that 10 minutes devoted to more of the fascinating discussion about the actual sessions and band history. The interview segments are the meat of the program as our boys discuss their early years, influences, heroes, and strategies. Various session players and producer Katz were given time to recall their stories and it was fascinating to hear the likes of Bernard Purdie, Wayne Shorter, Victor Feldman, Chuck Rainey, Roger Nichols, Denny Dias, Rick Marotta, and Michael McDonald spill on the perfectionist tendencies, among other things, of our heroes. It was revealed that when the boys weren't happy with what they were hearing in the booth, often the entire band would go, not just one or two players. The next day would bring an entirely different band to attempt cutting something that failed the previous day. But everyone genuinely seemed to enjoy working with the lads who could "finish each other's sentences" and preferred intellectual humor over "fart jokes." Purdie was the most animated interview talking about how he sold the "Purdie shuffle" to the skeptical Dan on the track "Home at Last." Chuck Rainey recounted how he was told not to slap the bass on "Peg" despite feeling that it sounded great there. The Dan did not want the technique used as they saw it as somewhat trendy and overused, but on one bridge Rainey turned away from where they were seated and threw a little in, loving the fact he slipped it past them. The last feature is the boys sitting at the sound board breaking down the individual tracks. Unlike some of these features where the artist has trouble sifting through the tape to find something interesting, the Dan are completely at home with the board. They quickly tear into each track showing off interesting individual performances and offering amusing stories behind each one. On one track they compare the guitar solo they used with the 8 or 9 other guy's solos that ended up in the trash and it would seem that the right choice was made. I sense confidence in decision-making was never an issue with this duo, and thankfully for us they knew what they were doing.

These documentaries are mostly for serious fans of the particular album as they do get into more detail than the casual viewer would care about, and that is especially true with this one which becomes almost a conversation between musicians at some points. This program gets an extra star for doing it well and actually providing the in-depth analysis that the hard core Dan fan will relish. Recommended for Steely Dan fans easily, but perhaps only as a rental to more casual fans of the band.

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Posted Monday, November 10, 2008 | Review Permalink

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