Steely Dan, a rock band with jazz and blues influences in its music, has stood the test of time. The group's original albums from the 1970s are as good today as they were when they were new. Some of their classic songs have been covered by a number of pop and jazz acts, including "Josie, "FM and "Kid Charlemagne.
In the late 1980s, The Hoops McCann Band Plays the Music of Steely Dan (MCA, 1988) featured several big band instrumentals of Dan songs, performed by a group comprised largely of Steely Dan session musicians. After nearly two decades of inactivity, the group reformed in the 1990s, releasing a live album and two subsequent studio efforts. Earlier this year, co-founder Donald Fagen released Morph the Cat (Reprise), a solo effort that was basically Steely Dan without Walter Becker.
Now, a lineup of ten jazz guitarists, anchored by a solid rhythm section, comes forth with The Royal Dan. The "band, as it is, consists of Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Jeff Richman on rhythm guitars, the Yellowjackets' Jimmy Haslip on bass, Peter Wolf on keyboards and horn synths, and Ernie Watts on saxophone. Robben Ford, a founding member of the Yellowjackets, sets things off with a slick presentation of "Peg. Like the guitarists who follow him on this release, Ford makes his instrument sing, covering the melody while adding a rocking solo. Watts helps close the song with a sizzling tenor solo.
Jay Graydon delivers a bluesy take on "Home at Last, complemented by a soulful sax solo by Watts. After a brief treatment on keys by Wolf, Graydon and Watts engage in a passionate call and response. Colaiuta gives the toms a workout on the opening to "Aja. Watts takes lead when the band finally gets to the opening verse and chorus. Al Di Meola then takes point on the second verse and chorus before shifting to the beauty point of the original version: the middle solos. Watts solos on the first set, giving way to Di Meola's rapid-fire playing on the second, which carries through to the end of the song.
Steve Lukather, of the rock group Toto, leads on "Pretzel Logic, injecting a blues-rock swing to the melody and heating up the rock element on his solo. Jimmy Herring is featured on an almost faithful rendition of "The Fez, and his bass gives this groove a funky edge.
Other songs (and guitarists) featured are "Bodhisattva (Steve Morse), "Josie (Jeff Richman), "Dirty Work (Mike Stern), "FM (Frank Gambale) and "Hey Nineteen (Elliott Randall). The cover art includes references to some vintage Steely Dan albums, including Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied and The Royal Scam. All songs on The Royal Dan were written by Fagen and Becker, all arrangements by Richman. Whether you're a fan of Steely Dan or simply one who enjoys the guitar as a lead instrument, The Royal Dan is worth a serious listen.
Track Listing: Peg; Bodhisattva; Home at Last; Aja; Pretzel Logic; Josie; Dirty Work; The Fez; FM; Hey Nineteen.
Personnel: The band: Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Jeff Richman: rhythm guitars; Jimmy Haslip: bass; Peter Wolf: keyboards; Ernie Watts: saxophones. Featured guitarists: Robben Ford (1); Steve Morse (2); Jay Graydon (3); Al Di Meola (4); Steve Lukather (5); Jeff Richman (6); Mike Stern (7); Jimmy Herring (8); Frank Gambale (9); Elliott Randall (10).