STEELY DAN Aja [Vinyl] Record (Sealed New)
By this late stage, Steely Dan was less a band than an all-star aggregation of studio musicians assembled to perform the works of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. On AJA, the two leaders assembled one of their finest units and made them sound like a road-tested, hard-bop quintet (and in fact, the band included legendary jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter). Though the lyrics on "Aja" and "Black Cow" were typically oblique, the Steely Dan sound touched a pop nerve, as proved by the staying power of the latter song's billowy bass line, sampled in the late '90s for hits by Tatyana Ali and Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz. And when Fagen and Becker turned wistful on "Deacon Blues" -- particularly the verse, "They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/Call me Deacon Blues" -- they created an enduring hit. "Peg," "I Got the News," and "Josie" also found their way onto certain radio formats, but, sadly, this recording marked the end of a glorious era for Steely Dan: The duo released one more album before moving on to solo projects and, ultimately, the obligatory reunion efforts.
Steely Dan hadn't been a real working band since Pretzel Logic, but with Aja, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's obsession with sonic detail and fascination with composition reached new heights. A coolly textured and immaculately produced collection of sophisticated jazz-rock, Aja has none of the overt cynicism or self-consciously challenging music that distinguished previous Steely Dan records. Instead, it's a measured and textured album, filled with subtle melodies and accomplished, jazzy solos that blend easily into the lush instrumental backdrops. But Aja isn't just about texture, since Becker and Fagen's songs are their most complex and musically rich set of songs -- even the simplest song, the sunny pop of "Peg," has layers of jazzy vocal harmonies. In fact, Steely Dan ignores rock on Aja, preferring to fuse cool jazz, blues, and pop together in a seamless, seductive fashion. It's complex music delivered with ease, and although the duo's preoccupation with clean sound and self-consciously sophisticated arrangements would eventually lead to a dead end, Aja is a shining example of jazz-rock at its finest.
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