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Rock/pop band, “Steely Dan” signified the epitome of hip-ness thanks to a string of monumentally successful recordings. They blended cool, jazzy licks with memorably melodic themes and soul, blues, rock frameworks during their successful 1970’s run. In fact, the main proprietors of the band, keyboardist, Donald Fagen, and bassist, Walter Becker hired well-known jazz session musicians on several occasions. So, the jazz connection was in place, amid the unit’s witty or perhaps, Dylan-esque lyricism and often endearing arrangements. With that, twenty-eight year old, Los Angeles, guitarist/film scorer, Justin Morell, and his band of Southern California session aces reinterpret six Steely Dan classics (Becker/Fagen), along with a lone Fagen composition, and one original.
The quintet’s modus operandi rings loud and clear as Morell, John Daversa (trumpet) and Tom Peterson (saxophone) jubilantly state the memorable choruses in concert with the jazz-based rhythms. Whereby, the guitarist often anchors the proceedings via his deft comping and beautifully structured soloing. They adhere to the original compositions while injecting a personalized stamp into works such as the dreamy “Home At Last,” and others. In addition, the soloists articulate a mild frenzy atop the rhythm section’s leanly executed swing on, “I Got The News.”
The musicians touch upon a higher worldly plane during their modern jazz-based spin of “The Royal Scam.” On this piece, the soloists’ augment the song’s soulful motif with ferocious call and response type dialogue. Legendary L.A. session drummer, John Guerin lays down a brisk strut in support of Daversa’s warmly stated lines and Peterson’s soul-searching tenor sax solo on “Babylon Sisters.” Bassist, Todd Sickafoose often propels the band into mid-tempo swing vamps while Morell’s well-placed chord progressions provide a budding flow throughout.
Many of “Steely Dan’s” LPs continue to enjoy staying power, as Morell and co. parallels that notion in exuberant (jazz-based) fashion with this glowing testament to a great outfit. Highly recommended.