Aja is the sixth studio album by the American jazz rock band Steely Dan. Its regarded as a masterpiece and way ahead of their time complete with cryptic lyrics and very progressive jazz flavored rock. It was released on September 23, 1977, by ABC Records. Recording alongside nearly 40 musicians,. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker pushed Steely Dan further into experimenting with different combinations of session players while pursuing longer, more sophisticated compositions for the album.
Becker and Fagen masterminds had 5 albums behind them but they felt like something was amiss in their collection. They auditioned the best session musicians available at the time to piece together the magnum opus that would be titled Aja. Weeks of sessions were held, but on more than one occasion, no music was recorded at all. Becker and Fagen were looking for the best.
legendary drummers like Bernard Purdie and Steve Gadd rubbed elbows with jazz greats like Wayne Shorter and Plas Johnson. Doobie Brothers vocalist Michael McDonald lent his signature voice to the stacked harmonies of ‘Peg’ while future Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmidt contributed to tracks like ‘Home at Last’ and ‘Josie’. Chuck Rainey, who incorporated funk and R&B grooves into the band’s arrangements, held down the bass on every track except ‘Deacon Blues’. It was a who’s-who of the best players at the time, collected onto one vinyl record. Walter and Becker might have been impeccable in their craft, but they weren’t above a very basic rule: make it sound good.
No other Steely Dan album is as naturally appealing or easy on the ears as Aja. It’s a masterclass in the pursuit of perfection.
The songs on Aja (pronounced Asia) have been dissected and examined countless times over the last 45 years, so I’m giving this great artwork its due. According to Wikipedia, the name Aja belonged to the Korean wife of Donald Fagen’s friend’s brother. I’m not sure if that’s true but it sounds plausible, so I’ll pretend it is.
Credit for the cover image goes to Hideki Fujii, who took this striking photo of model/actress Sayoko Yamaguchi.