Don Breithaupt’s excellent study of Steely Dan’s Aja album is reviewed in the Sept/Oct issue of Canadian jazz-mag CODA – in a joint review, by Andrew Scott, with Tom Perchard’s biography of Lee Morgan.
Here’s the part of the review that best serves our purposes:
As Toronto-based keyboardist/vocalist/bandleader and author Don Breithaupt rightly points out in his excellent new book on Steely Dan’s seminal recording Aja, “rock critics…first look for answers on a lyric sheet.” Thankfully Breithaupt does not get caught in the snare he describes. True, he discusses Steely Dan’s multi-dimensional and often “too hip for the room” lyrics; yes, he points to the so-called “cocaine sizzle” that was 1970s music making in Los Angeles, California – so deliciously lampooned by the creators of Yacht Rock – but equal attention is given here to the band’s music. Breithaupt has the requisite Lester Bangs / Chuck Klosterman-style humour (“the great band member purge of ’75”) and journalistic muscle to dismiss musical comparisons based upon geography as “reductionist malarkey.” But unlike these better-known music commentators, Breithaupt can both speculate and marshal a convincing argument on how Steely Dan’s harmonic manipulation from G6-F6 to G13-F13 in “Deacon Blues” makes the passage “33% bluer,” thus linking together music and meaning – not an easy task. The fact that Breithaupt has ears – and not just for cultural studies – makes Aja as good a piece of popular music writing as any.
One Thought to “Aja reviewed”
I bought this one because a sample I read intrigued me; I’ve never been a fan of the group. I have to say that this was one of the most interesting, knowledgeable, satisfying, and incisively written books in the series, and it did greatly enhance my appreciation of what went into the album in terms of brushstrokes… but unfortunately, after all that, it couldn’t bring me any closer to liking it. I guess it boils down to a music that doesn’t relate to or summarize my own outlooks or experience, but it was a pleasure to experience the music through Mr. Berithaupt’s words and ears.