31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
scattershot and kind of lacking but PRETTY DARN GREAT anyway,
This review is from: Classic Albums: Steely Dan - Aja (DVD)
I really don't get where some of the other reviews for this video/ DVD are coming from, saying that it's a good 'sleeping aid' or things of this nature. A big part of what makes the "Aja" album such a landmark is the way it put to use such spellbinding musicianship from a long list of different players, and the sophisticated elegance and beauty of the songs themselves--this really IS fascinating stuff, even though many fans unfortunately don't seem to give a damn, and if that's the case, I don't know why they are bothering with this DVD in the first place. Another reviewer commented that you've got to really LOVE Steely Dan to really enjoy this DVD--well you know what, people do love Steely Dan and for good reason--if you come to this DVD expecting mindless entertainment to watch while you throw back a few beers, you're out of your mind. This DVD gives you a thrilling peek into the making of the album, demonstrating some of the musical techniques that were used--the way the bass was doubled on guitar on "Josie", and the layering of Michael McDonald's background vocals on "Peg" to point out a couple examples. McDonald gives a highly intriguing, if ever-so-slightly derogatory discussion of his performance on "Peg", and you also get great interview/ performance segments from Chuck Rainey, Rick Marotta, Dean Parks, Denny Dias, and Bernard Purdie, as well as great segments from guitarist/ arranger Larry Carlton, producer Gary Katz, master engineer Roger Nichols, and of course, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker themselves. Also, the appearance of the late Ian Dury is a shock (he died right around the time this DVD was released), although not an unpleasant one--it's quite strange since he wasn't at all involved in the making of the album, nor is he even someone you associate in the slightest with the West Coast pop-rock scene of the 1970s. The interviews with Fagen and Becker and seeing them dissecting the tracks... GREAT stuff--priceless, really. Fagen & Becker for once go easy on their supreme sarcasm and are shown in great spirit, great humor, and are even movingly reflective at times--wonderfully intimate stuff from a true genius team. All that said, any TRUE Dan fan will indeed appreciate this DVD and LOVE having it in their collection. On the other side of the coin, there are some drawbacks to the DVD for sure. For one thing, it's rather scattershot--Becker mentions early in the DVD how the only other original Steely Dan member still working with them by the time of "Aja" was guitarist Denny Dias, and then, over halfway through the DVD, they get back on the topic of Dias, discussing how they hooked up with him which ultimately lead to the beginning of Steely Dan. They do basically move from one song to the next, but the sequencing could have been a lot better. However, this would have been a virtually ignorable issue had this DVD been more thorough. Quite frankly, this DVD left me hungry for more--it's painfully far off from being fully comprehensive. As other reviewers have already stated, the fact that drummer Steve Gadd's name isn't even mentioned in the DVD is a damn shame indeed, and that's just for starters. I wish there was even more interview stuff with McDonald, Nichols, Dias, etc... So, in the end, the DVD does leave me a little unsatisfied, but I'm still thrilled with the great stuff that it does offer, and I think any serious Steely Dan fan ought to feel the same.
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Initial post: Dec 26, 2012 1:26:54 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 18, 2014 6:44:17 PM PDT
mark twain says:
Your review and comments hit on something I've meditated on for many of the years I've been involved in the creative process of making and recording music....that music as we know it and enjoy it through the playback of studio recordings is, in reality, not so much an actual performance, but rather an 'illusion' of such - in a certain sense. With the advent of the multitrack recording process, music recordings from the mid- 1960's and onward are most of the time, edited, post-produced works, the same as movies and television shows. As such, the behind-the-scenes stories about how artists achieved their successes are less interesting than actual enjoyment of the works themselves unless some insight is offered in terms of what inspired the artist or motivated them to do what they did. And the fact that virtually 'perfect' music recordings can be and are made also create unusually high expectations of an artist's actual live performances because listeners already have a perfect, constantly-repeatable standard to return to for endless analysis and scrutiny. But this DVD presentation was a welcome and fascinating insight into what is generally regarded as one of the most outstanding and enjoyable contemporary musical works ever! And although Walter Becker and Donald Fagen didn't cover EVERY detail of what went into the making of the 'AJA' album, we do now know a LOT more about the story behind the 'stories' that have circulated about these two musical 'perfectionists' and their working methods. Most music listeners will probably never get to actually personally witness the making of a hit musical recording since most studio sessions are generally closed affairs except to those involved and close personal friends and relatives. And whereas hit records and even albums once were done in a matter of hours or days, now a recording project from start to finish could last for months(or even years)if it takes that long for the artist to be truly satisfied with his own work, first of all. Much has been written about Steely Dan and their music since their initial success beginning in the early 1970's. Critics, fans and other musicians have examined their musical output in just about every way imaginable and opinions and viewpoints abound. Which is probably why Fagen and Becker don't feel the necessity of giving away all of their secrets. What they do reveal is probably, as in most personal revelations, as much as they feel comfortable sharing. As far as the omission of anything about Steve Gadd's drum solo on the title track, it was largely due to the fact that the original 24-track masters for that song and 'Black Cow' have gone 'missing' for over a decade now.(I do have a bootleg copy of Donald Fagen's piano/vocal demo of 'Black Cow' though - it was floating around for several years on the Web along with a lot of other stuff that's been leaked out over the past couple of decades). That situation, though, as well as several other mishaps that have occurred over the course of their career, are real sore spots for them to revisit. Besides, there's lots of information on that topic available now, anyway, via the Internet, including Steve Gadd's own comments about his work on that track. It's probably the one thing he gets asked about the most often at his various drum clinics that he gives periodically.
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