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Sunday, June 3, 2007


Aja (ABC Dunhill Records, 1977)
Once again we visit their realm, and we're always happy to listen. This time, we put Aja on the CD player. And the feeling is of relief.

We actually got tired of hearing bad music everywhere. Not because of styles but commercial nonsense and this big, big creative and economic crisis that western hemisphere art is suffering nowadays.

Becker and Fagen were two ugly twenty-something musicians who wanted to introduce jazz to a mainstream audience. 1977 didn't have an MTV, nor a concept such as "Classic Rock Radio". There was no such thing as Good Old Days because the times of rock and roll weren't that old.

Until 1977, Steely Dan never reached the top ten in America, and this album, painfully recorded, mixed and re-recorded in Los Angeles and New York, gave them that satisfaction. 1977 was the year of the Dan's triumph. Only their following album, Gaucho, would reach this level, but nothing else so far. They stopped in 1981 and it took them 20 years to go back to a studio and release another album.

If you ask me what the album is about, I would tell you it's about "feeling good" music with "feeling bad" subjects. Therefore it's about blues, but played in complicated ways; or at least unusual ways. Difficult chords for guitar players, incredible tempo changes, extremely complex mixtures of sounds and effects. "Black Cow" is about unrequited Love, "Aja" is about a war veteran exiled in paradise, "Deacon Blues" is the same old veteran going out on a saturday night. You may listen to the songs and decide what they're about; you will be right anyways. Becker and Fagen worked so hard for this compositions so they embraced the common man by their thoughts. A redneck girl who turned into a porn star in Hollywood and is praised and missed by her former boyfriend ("Peg"), A man who misses his home after a nasty divorce on the other side of the country and compares himself to Homer in the Oddisey ("Home At Last"), and my favorite: "Josie", a wild girl who loves having fun with the band. You can even smell the characters with the chords, for heaven's sake.

Aja represents a transition from war to peace, in space and time. But in the mind of the narrator, there are still battles to fight in the new land he's living in. It's an album about the Viet Nam War veterans. About the dissilusion of the American Average Male and also about whoever thought life would be easy in the land of opportunities.

Yes, the new genre of Smooth Jazz had to be created to fit albums like this. Future recordings by Pat Metheny, George Benson, The Rippingtons and Spyro Gyra were consequences of the sounds impregnated here. Beautiful and so outrageous.


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