Rock band Steely Dan
released Pretzel Logic
(ABC) in 1974. The album was big, one its most successful. But with younger audiences unfamiliar with jazz, the disc surely must have caused some confusion, along the lines of: "What in the world is this 'East St. Louis Toodle-oo?' And what are they talking about with 'Parker's Band?'" The former tune, a three-minute instrumental, closed out side one and it was, of course, from the pen of composer/bandleader Duke Ellington
. The latter, a Walter Becker
original, celebrated alto saxophonist/bebop pioneer Charlie Parker
. These nods to two jazz giants may have been lost on many of the young and uninitiated, who may not have realized that Becker and Fagensoon to be the only remaining constant members of Steely Danwere huge jazz fans.
But bandleader/arranger Mark Masters
, on his first encounter with the group, surely knew of these jazz influences, and with Everything You Did
he turns his discerning earand his marvelous bandonto the music of the jazz-influenced Steely Dan.
Masters' previous CD offeringshaving proven himself one of the 21st century's premier arrangersincluded nods to Ellington, Clifford Brown
, Lee Konitz
; Grachan Moncur III
; Dewey Redman
, and composer George Gershwin
the last with his stellar remake on Porgy and Bess Redefined!
(Capri, 2005). While the art of Becker and Fagen may not rise to gravitas of these former Masters subjects, the duo wroteand still writecatchy, often quirky, sometimes cerebral and always memorably engaging popular tunes. If gravitas is needed, Mark Masters and this all-star ensemble can inject it.
The familiar tunes are from Steely Dan's early days, when rock radio was still vibrant, including "Bodhisattva," "Show Biz Kids" and "Do It Again." And then there's "Aja," "Josie" and "Black Cow," from the group's best album, Aja
(ABC, 1977), a set that included Wayne Shorter
and Tom Scott
on saxophones, if anyone's looking for jazz cred.
The music, under the baton of Masters, retains its charm and its quirkiness while taking on the beautiful harmonic foundation of a first-rate jazz ensemble, one enhanced an orchestral direction with the inclusion of bassoon, bass clarinet, vibes, and French and English horns. The added bonusand this is what jazz, in large part, is all aboutis the room allowed for lots of magnificent soloing from the likes of trumpeter Tim Hagans
, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan
and alto saxophonist Gary Foster
players who here, as on previous Masters outings, are inspired to the highest level of performance acumen.
"Black Cow" has to be singled out. The original is a Steely Dan classic. Opening with an ominous bass line, it slips into a slinky groove, polished to a high sheen by vibraphonist Brad Dutz
, an featuring the every-woman voice of Anna Mjoll, who sounds resigned, a bit exasperated as she sings: "I'm the one who must make everything right."
She makes it exactly right, as does the Mark Masters Ensemble.