Monday, December 10, 2012

145. Aja. Steely Dan again

Album: Aja
Artist: Steely Dan
Year: 1977
Genre: Jazz Rock


  1. Black Cow
  2. Aja
  3. Deacon Blues
  4. Peg
  5. Home at Last
  6. I Got the News
  7. Josie

How many bands can you name that don't have a guitarist? Most have at least one, several have two but not many groups get by without a single guitar player.

Steely Dan is a duo which consists of a bass player and a pianist and a bunch of session musicians that they bring in to fill in the gaps in their line up. The obvious gaps include drums and guitars but there are also less obvious omissions in their ensemble that they felt needed filling like horns, flutes, saxophones   clavinets and backing vocals. I'd suggest there were other vacancies lacking when they went into the studio: soul for one, interest for another. 

Lord Steely Dan are dull. This is technically Jazz Rock which means it's got two great genres of music to cherry pick from so in theory should be better than either of them but in reality it's worse than the worst aspects of them both. 

Rock should have energy, sex drive, swagger and possibly a bit of anger thrown in. "Okay we're ready for another take. Someone get the groupies off the guitarist and break up the fight between the singer and bassist while I try and revive the drummer". Rock should be explosive and dangerous.

Jazz should be so ingrained in the performer that they're never not jazz. They should be 100% jazz all day, every day, at the very least. Miles Davis was at least 150% jazz his entire life which meant people around him became 50% jazz just by being near him. Great jazz players just wander around pouring jazz brilliance out of their instruments. Recording great jazz should be all about getting a group of them into a room at the same time and rolling tape. 

Recording Aja was obviously a very different process. It involved a lot of writing things down and calculating outcomes. Musical annotation was used and long discussions were had about key changes. Studio musicians came in to fulfil a role and would remain until they had produced exactly what was required. At no point was anyone moved by a crazy notion, inspired by a flash of insight or transported to a place they weren't expecting. It's album creation by mathematical design and calculation and it's unutterably tedious and over produced. 

Rock is spontaneous and joyful even if the performers are going through hell. Jazz is technically brilliant but effortlessly so. Jazz rock, if Steely Dan are anything to go by, has all the technical requirements of jazz with none of the soul. It's what happens when rock is left to the bassist and keyboard player to organize.

Influenced by: The worst aspects of Jazz and Rock
Influenced: Tedious over production

Highlight: The Cover (it's a really interesting image)
Lowlight: Peg

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Steely Dan was better as a "jazz influenced" rock band than the solipsistic, navel geezers they became"

-I can't work out whether "navel geezer" is a mistake or a wonderful new derogatory term that I should start using.

So is this better than rock? Better than Jazz? Or not as good as either? Let me know below.

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