Thursday, 1 November 2018

Steely Dan - Aja (1977)


Released September 1977

Recorded in Hollywood and New York City

After the wry, sometimes cynical and smart-ass observational lyrics over sumptuous, immaculately-crafted rock rhythms of their first four albums, this one had "The Dan" going down the full jazz-rock route. It was an even more faultlessly-played example of sonic perfection, just seven songs of studio majesty.

The sound quality is superb and historically has often been used in hi-fi shops to demonstrate speakers. It is that good.


1. Black Cow
2. aja
3. Deacon Blues
4. Peg
5. Home At Last
6. I Got The News
7. Josie

The album kicks off with the melodic, laid-back saxophone-driven jazzy feel of "Black Cow". Great stuff. Up next is the beguiling, intoxicating syncopations of the title track, featuring that classic Steely Dan voice, some wonderful bass and keyboards and just a delicious, slow rhythmic hook. Just check out that bass, drums and cymbals interplay near the end. This album was released in 1977, at the height of punk. It was the very anathema to punk's crashing fury. Somehow though, it escaped opprobrium, and was respected by everyone, even the punks. It had always been that way for Steely Dan. The lyrics on here are still obtuse and mystifying, but it merges with the music so easily and the whole thing is delivered so effortlessly. It is lush, textured, subtle in places, virtuoso solos cropping up too. In many ways it is a very complex album, musically, but the group make it sound so damn easy. It just washes over you like a warm bath.

"Deacon Blues" gave its name to the eighties and beyond Scottish band. It is another laid-back groove, with an eminently identifiable Dan vocal from Donald Fagen and a delicious hooky refrain. The lyrics are typically unfathomable. Superb saxophone near the end too. "Peg" is catchy and melodious, while "Home At Last" has a muscular funkiness to its rhythm. An even funkier bass line drives "I Got The News" along, effortlessly. It is probably the most jazzy on the album, in that improvised piano "modern jazz" style. "Josie" is a classic slice of Dan funk/rock, full of wonderful instrumentation and cute hooks. This really is a perfect album in so many ways. Highly recommended.


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