It is not hard to imagine jazz versions of Steely Dan songs, as they are rich in knotty harmonies and dark lyrics that belie their mainstream pop success. But you would probably have to be guitarist Andrew Green to imagine them arranged for chamber ensembles dominated by woodwinds and strings (as well as vocalist Miriam Waks and Green's guitar). Ironically, Green's dramatic departure from the iconic recordings grew out of his love for them: he was convinced that no rock or jazz cover would hold up against the originals.
The startling new context is immediately evident from the strings, oboe and vocal that open "Black Cow" from Aja (ABC Records, 1977). When bass and drums enter on the third verse the rhythmic feel begins to recall the original, only to have a totally unexpected Bluegrass guitar solo at the end. Aja's title tune (whose lyrics provide the album's title) alternates between lush woodwinds and strings and rhythmic gamelan textures, concluding with a lush vocal coda.
"Any World (That I'm Welcome To)" from Katy Lied (ABC Records, 1975) gets a stunning re-imagination as 1970s' salsa, complete with a montuno section with coro accompanying vocals and Green's Carlos Santana-like electric guitar solo. "Dirty Work" from the band's debut, Can't Buy A Thrill (ABC Records, 1972), occupies similar stylistic territory, this time as a slow samba with accordion (also featured in a rollicking solo). "Reelin' In The Years" from the same album is done in a dramatically slower tempo, which reveals surprising emotional depthaccentuated by the reed ensemble. Waks' singing here is a wonder, drawing every drop of feeling from the song. Closer "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" from Pretzel Logic (ABC Records, 1974) receives a similar ballad treatment, ending the program on a wistful, sad note. The plaintive vocals are ably supported by an ensemble of woodwinds and cello, plus Green's acoustic and electric guitar playing.
Green's ambitious, adventurous arrangements are a revelation. After the initial shock of hearing arrangements so different from the original recordings, the listener is presented with additional meanings and emotional depth previously only implied in these classic songs.
Black Cow; Aja; Any World (That I'm Welcome To); Reelin' in the Years; Dirty Work; Daddy Don't Live in That NYC No More; Everything You Did; Rikki Don't Lose That Number.
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