on January 1, 2004
I don't have a lot to add to the great retrospective reviews presented here, but there are a few points I would like to make. I first heard this album when it was initially released; it knocked me out then, and it still does today.
I am a jazz pianist-classical composer with 40 years experience. Each of those years I have had to pay tribute to one influence or another--Debussy, Ravel, Hindemith; Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Miles...and yes, Steely Dan. The infectious sophistication of the lyrics, the wonderful harmonic concepts, and rhythmic drive, the perfection of performance--all these elements fall into place in this most perfect of musical expressions. Aja well deserves the accolades hearlding it as the record of the decade--it will carry that kudo even further through the years with many of us listeners.
A personal note: A close friend of mine--Jim Keltner, drummer--told me what it was like working on this recording. He walked into the studio to face a six-page drum part for Josie. This was rather an unusual occurance in the pop music field of the day; this is testimony to the perfection sought by Donald and Walter. They would perform different versions of the tunes with different players and select the version closest to their vision. Jim's version was the one they used for Josie. Jim told me the work he did on this recording was one of the most pleasurable musical experiences in his professional career--coming into the studio to find all these great players preparing to work on this monumental recording project. He is proud to have been associated with Aja.
I personally feel that on all levels this recording is one of the most compelling, satisfying musical endeavors ever undertaken. It is moving on all levels, and to all who love artistic expression, this recording should be a welcome addition to their personal library.
By their fourth album, Steely Dan was Fagan and Becker and session musicians. Even Fagan and Becker didn't play on all their own songs anymore. This album is their sixth, and it has elements of R&B and funk, and is very jazzy. It's a classic album, no filler. The song "Aja" is a masterpiece on many levels.
I already own the box set, and wanted to upgrade to the remastered CD's because of good reviews on the "improved" sound. The remastering is subtle - the sound is cleaner, clearer and has more depth, but has retained all the dynamics without being overly loud or bright. However, without a hi-fi stereo system, I doubt most people would notice any improvement over the oringal CD's or the box set - previously released versions already sounded quite good. So, it's an unnecessary purchase for most people(hence, my reason for deducting one star).
The remastered version includes lyrics and extra running commentary, which is continued on each successive CD.
If you like this album, you may want to check out the DVD, "Classic Albums - the Making of Aja".
on May 19, 2004
I went searching for the reissue of "Aja" after a conversation with one of my former co-workers. He was a true hip-hop head (a DC-based rapper, actually, who was working in the mail room at my office while looking to get that big break.) Anyway, we were talking about some of our favorite samples in rap songs--instead of working, of course. The topic of Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz's song "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)" came up, a track which infamously sampled the opening break of "Black Cow" without Becker & Fagen's approval (which Becker slyly jokes about in the promotional video for "Everything Must Go"), which led to us talking about how funky Steely Dan's music is and how particularly infectious the entire "Aja" album is.
And, oh my God, is this album tight (as a previous reviewer very aptly put it).
This is B&F at their wittiest, funkiest, and shrewdest. The song craft is impeccable: the lyrics are thrifty, but dagger-sharp. (Example: "Home At Last" condenses Homer's "Odyssey" into two stanzas.) The melodies are full of catchy hooks and soulful grooves that blend jazz and rock together so smoothly that it makes you wonder why so many other supposed "fusion bands" that preceded SD, who tried to combine rock and jazz, mixed that delicate cocktail all wrong. (The key is shaken, not just stirred...)
Also, B&F decided to bring in some of the best jazz session players (like the late Victor Feldman) to get the sound and precision they envisioned, even stepping out of the limelight to let the session players' chops shine. And while SD often took a lot of heat for using session players instead of a set line-up of band members, the end result is musicianship unlike you'll hear on any other "pop" album that stands the test of time. (Insert sound of B&F getting the last laugh.....here.)
Also, the sound on the remaster is perfect--no tape hiss to be found. Plus, there's the added bonus of expanded liner notes, which are funny as hell. (Check out the transcript of the supposed phone conference between B&F and two, former ABC Records' execs who the pair track down to harass after 25 years...)
In all, this is what an album SHOULD be. All seven songs are distinctively different yet blend seamlessly. Like seven chapters in a funky/jazzy novella, "Aja" leaves you craving the sequel, yet you feel completely satisfied with the experience you've just had...
This is an essential album from the 70s. Buy it.
on January 10, 2004
This 1978 album is recognized as a masterpiece for its time in having the top studio musicians in the industry performing. It pushed pop music the brink of perfection and artistic relevance. Some of the songs, such as Aja, that predicted the upcoming influence of Asia on American culture, are absolute genius and were highly revered by most everyone in the industry at the time.
It was my senior year of high school when this album came out in 1978. I was singing with my high school jazz choir -- the previous year that had performed at the Montreau Jazz festival wo they were pretty good. I remember bringing in the album to play the song "Aja" for those in the choir to listen to -- most had never heard it before. They were blown away, and so was the choir director, a very hard to please jazz pianist. He said it was the tightest album, musician wise, he had ever heard for a pop/jazz album.
This group is forever part of a treasured past of musical accomplishment for my generation that will never be forgotten! They made history. They achieved something few achieved and yet they consider themselves indebted to the former jazz musicians who came before them.
I will always cherish this music Steely Dan performed on this great album Aja that is part of my life and experience of my youth. What an inspiration. What great musicians! Sadly, I can't think if any youth band today that could come anywhere near them. A sad commentary on the current state of the music industry.
on December 9, 2003
Steely Dan hit the commercial jackpot in 1977 with "Aja," their most successful release to date. So much has already been written about this signature classic from Walter Becker & Donald Fagen, that I don't have much else to add. I will just say that, with "Aja," Walt & Don crafted an outstanding jazz/pop/rock record in which every note played & sung, every melody, every arrangement, and every ounce of studio production is nothing short of genius. The towering piano, the sparkling horn section, the tasty guitars, and Donald Fagen's ultra-cool voice....pure magic. And to cap it off, ALL seven tracks---"Black Cow," "Aja," "Deacon Blues," "Peg," "Home At Last," "I Got The News," and "Josie"---are all classic FM-radio staples, all classic Steely Dan songs. In fact, these songs flow together SO effortlessly, you'd think that "Aja" is one continuous 40-minute suite simply split up into seven movements. Yep, it's that good.Most Steely Dan fans point to "Aja" as the group's greatest work. My personal fave is "The Royal Scam," but there's no doubt that "Aja" is a superb---heck, *legendary*---Steely Dan disc. It's the album that sent Walt & Don into the commercial stratosphere, and with good reason. Magnificent.
on June 16, 2003
Only a small handful of recordings in my CD collection have weathered repeated listenings (hundreds!) as enduringly as Aja, which is convincing testimony to this album's certifiable milestone stature.
I can vividly recall listening and cassette-recording very late at night, yet in a state of heightened alertness and rapture, to my college radio station's complete-and-uninterrupted broadcast of Aja on the day of its release in the fall of '77. "Home at Last" was a special treat for me, as I was then reading James Joyce's Ulysses for the first time, and I was struck by Becker and Fagan's aphoristic take on the fate of Homer's wanderer (Becker's best-ever guitar work is contained in this song, where he stands cheek-by-jowl with the likes of Django Reinhardt). Twenty-six years later, Aja still resonates with undiminished creative force; on every hearing I marvel anew at the labyrinthine arrangements, wry and witty lyrics, and the stylistically varied solos. The piano work here is truly exceptional.
on May 12, 2003
In 1977, Steely Dan released what would prove to be their greatest masterpiece, and their best selling record to date. With Aja, Steely Dan proved they were much more than a "Reelin' in The Years" classic rock band. As if they hadn't proved that already with "Katy Lied" & "The Royal Scam."
Everything is superb about this record: From the intriguing, yet mysterious album cover, straight down to the compositions themselves.
The album begins with the upbeat "Black Cow." Everything is excellent from the horns, drums, and Donald Fagen's great voice.
The album continues with "Aja," it's title track, and star of the record. After hearing this song all the way through, one feels like they are emerging from an "experience."
As one reviewer said on this site: "Having spent some time in Southern Asia, this song AND album sounds NOTHING like the music or culture of Asia."
Well, let's just say that this song isn't about that great continent! Hence the Dan's alternate spelling of "AJA."
One gets a feeling that it's Miss Aja who graces the cover of this great record. So, you can draw conclusions as to who this mystery woman is, by paying attention and making sense of the actual lyrics of this song. There is more to this song than meets the ear!
Other highlights of this CD include Deacon Blues (Great Horn Section), Home At Last (My personal favorite), and I Got the News with a great break in the middle featuring Michael McDonald.
Although Peg was a great staple on radio, I think that Josie might be the only flawed song of this set. While still not bad compared to today's music, it lacks a lot of the spontaneity of previous tracks.
I definitely recommend Aja to the REAL Steely Dan fan. Beware though, this isn't the typical Steely Dan youï¿½re used to hearing on the radio. This is pure, sophisticated, jazz-rock at it's best.
on March 3, 2003
If you buy this album wanting to hear some rock & roll you will likely be disappointed. "Josie" is probably the only song here that has a rock & roll sound to it. This album is basically Steely Dan journeying into the sound they like most. Even their previous songs didn't sound all that "rockish" but they sounded good. If this was Steely Dan's first album it may have not ended up in the rock section. "Deacon Blues" comes fairly close to rock but giving rock and roll a jazz flavor was essentially what Steely Dan was about. Even if you're not a fan of jazz music you may still like this album, I did. It came out when I was 21. Nearly all I listened to was hard rock turned up loud. This album gave me an appreciation for music that didn't sound too similar to what I usually listened to. I'd also have to say the songs on "Aja" have a timeless quality to them. It's not an album that gets old unless maybe you listen to over and over till you're burnt out. Sadly, this was Steely Dan's next to last album when in their prime.
on January 29, 2003
Whatever Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were reaching for throughout their career as "Steely Dan," one doubts that "Aja" would have been the predicted result. Polished to the point of perfection, musically star-crossed beyond categorization, and unique in a way that only these two men could have realized. Or were they aware of what they were doing?
Well, given their legendary almost anal attention to detail, it's doubtful that these guys weren't at least having a grand time using the studio as their own little science project. It shows in the elongated structure of "Aja's" mere seven cuts. The sad story of the down-on-his-luck musician in "Deacon Blues" takes over five minutes to fully unwind, and the strange retelling of Homer's Odyssey as "Home At Last" ventures where few lyricists would dare tread.
That kind of story telling would be a given on any Steely Dan record. But on "Aja," Becker and Fagen assembled a dream team of musicians from all over the spectrum, which led to stellar musical performances on every track. This is most evident on the title song, which boasts a phenomal sax solo and percussion arrangments. (And has anybody ever really figured what this song is about?) The musicianship wasn't all complication and construction, either. The album's Top 40 hit, "Peg," was essentailly a peppy pop number with sunny vocal layering.
This is as good as it got for Steely Dan, and as far as 70's fusion albums go, none ever came finer.
on October 4, 2002
Aja, of course, is the Dan's best-known and most successful album. Why is that so? Is it because they reached the pinnacle of their musical talents, honing their version of jazz fusion to perfection? Or did they play it safe, abandoning the quirkiness that permeated all their earlier works, going "mainstream" because career-wise they felt on the outside looking in up to that point? While there is no question that from a purely musical standpoint; I mean the timing of the horns, the skill level of Fagen's piano playing and so on, this is a superior album, to me it tended to come across as inaccessible, overly sophisticated and at times actually obnoxious. OK, Becker and Fagen pride themselves on that point, but earlier songs about lowlifes, losers, thieves and so forth were easier to relate to. On "Aja" the band and their music come across as aloof, like I'm not hip enough to really appreciate the music. The hedonistic, profane lifestyles talked about on tracks like "Deacon Blues" (although I sure like the lines "I cried when I wrote this song/Sue me if I play too long"), "I Got the News" and "Josie" also put me off. Best track is "Home At Last", a beautifully mellow piece that doesn't get enough recognition. The title track is also an interesting, ambitious number that defies easy description and "Peg" seems to revert to the days when the band was a little more loose. But overall the album takes itself far too seriously. I'm giving it four stars: five for the musical merits and -1 for its attitude. It's a good buy for casual Dan fans, and hopefully will lead the listener to better albums like "Katy Lied".