We used to do a lot of work there at that time, and I said yes. “An album like Aja matters not just because it contributes to civilization a handful of date-stamped audio treasures, but because it puts into sharp relief the dreck that surrounds it,” according to Breithaupt. Then I turn the monitor back up, so here’s this mix coming out of the speakers. He has the fool, slouched posture and crooked, potentially menacing smile of somebody who was probably a sarcastic outcast in junior high school. Classic Tracks: Elliot Scheiner and Steely Dan, by Robyn Flans, Mix, Jan. 31, 2018. It was the band's first platinum album and ultimately became their best-selling studio release, eventually selling over 5 million copies. The big debate was whether the “clones” of the Hoffman were actually any different from the Hoffman. The 1999 Nichols remaster is ever so slightly less dynamic according to DR score (12), but slightly more dynamic according to R128 (8.0 dB). Blending elements of rock, jazz, latin music, R&B, blues and sophisticated studio production with cryptic and ironic lyrics, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success starting from the early 1970s until breaking up in 1981. Steely Dan discuss the production behind "Deacon Blues" from "Aja." I just got out. But the 2010 180-gram vinyl re-issue of Steely Dan's "Aja" is a real gem. Steely Dan is the creation of two musicians—Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. • The METAlliance Report: Ed Cherney (1950–2019), by Elliot Scheiner, Nov. 25, 2019. Processing included all digital EQ/Compression signal processing. In the case of Aja, the album’s initial release was regarded as an audiophile masterpiece, and we know a great deal about the band’s intent and a fair amount about the sound of the master tape. I said, “To be honest with you, no matter what record it was, I can always take something and make it a little better.”, Steely Dan: A Guide to Their Best Albums, by Paul Elliott, Classic Rock, Nov. 12, 2018. ), The guitar solo on what Becker and Fagen called a “pantonal 13-bar blues with chorus” didn’t come nearly as easily. Such is the state of the Steely Dan tape legacy. Steely Dan’s debut, Can't Buy a Thrill, was released in November 1972 and peaked at number 17 on the Billboard pop album charts, buoyed by top-20 singles “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ In the Years.” Dan followed Can’t Buy a Thrill with Countdown to Ecstasy in July 1973, which peaked at number 35 on the charts, and Pretzel Logic in February 1974, which peaked at number eight. The former featured a minor hit about their time at Bard, “My Old School,” and latter spawned their biggest single, “Rikki Don't Lose That Number, which reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s not one of us writing the music, the other lyrics. I was also close by the side of any record company exec who could get me any discs to play on my new found CD player. The discography for the American jazz rock band Steely Dan consists of nine studio albums, 21 singles, one live album, one live set on DVD, seven compilations in the United States, one box set, and numerous other appearances.The band has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. They were standing behind me and Gary said, “F—–g Al, he can mix without even hearing this s—!” [Laughs], Elliot: They told that story to anybody who would come in the room, that Al was capable of mixing without speakers. Al: I’m exactly the same—I hear it a year later, I say, “Oh, why didn’t I do that? “We just kept adjusting our standards higher and higher,” Becker explained to GQ in 2014. “So many days we’d make guys do 30 or 40 takes and never listen to any of them again, because we knew none of them were any good. Whether measured by crest factor DR score or R128 dynamic range, all of the masterings have very similar dynamics, registering a DR score between 13 and 15 and an R128 between 6.5 and 7.9 dB. If three of the guys are cutting the part great and one doesn’t feel just right, they’ll call in a whole new band and redo the whole thing.”Â, But according to Katz, there was a method to their madness. Gary, in his wisdom, said, “He looks at the meters!” [Laughs]. Try to play the blues.’… [So] I play bluesy for a while. I have the 1999 Nichols CD mastering and what I believe may be the same 1984 CD mastering as diecaster's (the matrix info on mine reads MCAD 37214 DIDY 000055, which puts it in "mastering #3" on the Hoffman forum thread).  Whether or not that's a "Hoffman clone", it is a pleasure to listen to.  As is the 1999 remaster. (Katz: “I can’t listen to it. When music journalist-turned-director Cameron Crowe — who also colorfully described Becker and Fagen’s looks in his ’74 Rolling Stone profile of the band — had one of the groupie characters in his 2000 film Almost Famous proclaim “Wow, they’re cute” while watching the Steely Dan play “Reelin’ in the Years” on “Midnight Special,” it was unambiguously understood as a punch line. Masterings sourced from Nichols’s 1982 digital transfer — including Nichols’s original ‘84 mastering, the Citizen Steely Dan box, and Nichols’s ‘99 remaster — have several bursts of noise in the left channel near the 2:18 mark of “I Got the News.” There’s also a click in the left channel near the 1:03 mark of “Black Cow.” These don’t appear in any of the versions sourced from analog tapes, including the Hoffman, ’84 Japan, MoFi, and Takiguchi masterings. Published: August 4, 2020 ⋅ Updated: August 6, 2020. “It wouldn’t bother me at all not to play on my own album,” Becker told Crowe with utter seriousness.Â, “Around the time we made Aja we figured out what it was we sort of wanted to do, you know, musically,” Fagen explained in the Aja episode of the Classic Albums series. “We realized we needed session musicians who had a larger palette of things they could do.”Â, “Donald and I had more of an idea that comes from an East Coast Brill Building tradition, of an almighty producer, when you had a Leiber and Stoller, or at its extreme a Phil Spector, who knew exactly what they wanted,” Becker elaborated in 2000. “What Burt Bacharach did with Dionne Warwick. With the later version of CEDAR, I was able to successfully remove the last vestiges of the tape hiss. The only thing that was recorded at A&R was “Peg”—we ended up recording it in one night. Not music about doom and melodrama — that kind of stuff isn’t really frightening. Of these, the Pincus mastered is the best followed by the MoFi, which sometimes splits the original pressing. Essay by: Brian Sweet (guest post)* Original album Original label Becker and Fagen . It was at that point that the re-mastering that later became the box set occurred. Recording alongside nearly 40 musicians, band leaders 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. The MFSL’s slight midrange dip comports with Hoffman’s description of the master tape and Mobile Fidelity’s reputation for putting out (mostly) flat transfers of the analog master.Â, However, Hoffman is right that the album sounds more natural and balanced with some of that missing midrange added back. With that in mind, we sat down with Al and El to get their insights on recording the landmark collection. A small slender New Yorker, longhaired with a wispy moustache and beard, he looks like Peter Pan impersonating Fu Manchu. They said, “Okay, so you put it in today. Gary came in and was on the other side of the console, standing with his ears in between the speakers. But they knew from the very beginning.”. The people over in that SHF thread uniformly laud the AB-1006, though. As far as I know, Grundman was the only mastering engineer for the original vinyl, so I’m not sure what would account for any sonic differences in the pressings (beyond the inherent variation in the pressing of vinyl, “hot stampers,” etc.). With each succeeding album, Becker and Fagen’s desire to tour decreased and their desire to use studio musicians to augment (and, eventually, supplant) the band’s other members increased. ), Musically, “Deacon Blues” is marked by Carlton’s supple rhythm guitar, saxophonist Tom Scott’s hypnotic horn arrangement, and Pete Christlieb’s improvised sax solo. There were also EQ tape copies that were used for cassette duplication (and 8track going WAY back). However, “Deacon Blues,” “Aja,” and “Peg” are not only among the album’s highlights, but also illustrate some of the musical and lyrical elements that make Aja so special.Â, For two lyricists who shied away from songs that allowed for easy interpretation, “Deacon Blues” was surprisingly clear and direct. I believe there’s an AA-1006 pressing. [Becker] wears smoked glasses, accenting a somewhat gnomish face marked by high cheekbones and an upswitched nose.  of De-Noise was applied. How was the album “Aja” by Steely Dan ... all of the amps and instruments were isolated. Sign up for a new account in our community. Near the 2:10 mark of the title track, the sound stage shifts slightly. “And the basic idea is that there’s a kind of culture of losers that he’d rather be part of than the general way of life in America.”, Ultimately, “Deacon Blues” is a tribute to the other working- and middle-class kids like Becker and Fagen who, through music and the entire “alterative culture” that comes with it, learned to reject the façade of the American Dream and embrace their outsider status, even if they remained “losers” by the standards of the kids who drove “Porsches and Jaguars” around the college campus. I hate to hear an album that we’re involved in that’s not up to our standards. Then Donald says to me, ‘Naw, man. This what I want.’ And it was amazing that, when the thing got done, finally I could see what everything was gonna be like. I saw copies all over Ebay for under $20. Aja is the sixth studio album by the American jazz rock band Steely Dan. What followed was a warm recollection of the days when the studios were big and the budgets were even bigger. Widely considered a pinnacle of recording excellence, Steely Dan’s 1977 album 'Aja' had an occasionally tortured gestation—but it won the Grammy for Best Engineered Album. In terms of detail, depth, and noise floor, the MQA disc is closer to the Hoffman mastering than the Takiguchi mastering.Â. There was no bass on this.” I started to laugh and they knew instantly what happened. Not realizing that there were NO copies of the Ludwig created masters in their files, the studios pulled the 15IPS Dolby EQ tape copies, and transferred THOSE tapes to the Sony digital tapes, and sent those to the US plant(s) for replication. A slight EQ edge goes to Takiguchi, but the fidelity edge goes to Hoffman, giving the Hoffman the overall win by a small margin. It is a collaboration: we think very much the same musically. “I usually come up with germinal musical idea, and then we will arrange to meet…,” Fagen told the New York Times. When we moved out here, after a while we realized we hadn’t seen any black people — it really stuck out. Processing included all digital EQ/Compression signal processing. As the GIF below shows, the MFSL mastering (orange) has more high-end and low-end, but less midrange, than Hoffman’s mastering (purple): In 1993, Steely Dan released the Citizen Steely Dan box set, which featured new masterings of the band’s entire catalog by Glenn Meadows. Not surprisingly, Nichols was proactive in preparing the Steely Dan catalog for CD release.Â, In either 1981 or 1982, Nichols transferred all of the Steely Dan master tapes to Scotch 3M digital tape using a Sony PCM 1600 system, with the intention that these digital flat transfers, not the original analog masters (which Nichols later said “were in terrible shape, due to improper storage, and had poor fidelity”), would be used for all subsequent CD releases. By 1975’s Katy Lied, Steely Dan was Fagen and Becker augmented by Los Angeles’s top studio musicians, including Chuck Rainey (who’d already recorded with Yusef Lateef, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, and Aretha Franklin) on bass and Jeff Porcaro (who would go on to record with Boz Scaggs, Hall and Oates, Jackson Browne, Pink Floyd, and Aretha Franklin) on drums. Pretty sure there is an updated CSM "out there", Let me take a look at what’s on streaming and add a comment here about it. The album was placed on Rolling Stone … We strive for that sort of slick sound.” A side effect of the band’s embrace of “slickness” was that Becker and Fagen became the poster boys for the “L.A. (Thankfully, it’s easy to identify by its catalog number.) Aja’s sound was a direct offshoot from jazz and fusion, steeped in its harmonic language, as well as that of turn-of-the-century modernist classical music (Debussy and Stravinsky, especially). Also, while I understand some people might like vinyl rips as their digital version of an album, I’m with Nichols: I prefer digital to vinyl. It was the band's first platinum album and ultimately became their best-selling studio release, eventually selling over 5 million copies. The next thing I know I’m hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.”, Christlieb also solos over the song’s slow fadeout, which stretches over 30 seconds. Steely Dan hadn't been a real working band since Pretzel Logic, but with Aja, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's obsession with sonic detail and fascination with composition reached new heights. At that time, the CD masters were initiallyÂ. Many days were spent matching master tapes to different brand analog ¼” machines to get the best transfer possible One album (don’t know which), was missing the alignment tones, and took quite some time to get the playback EQ and level properly matched to the noise reduction used on the master tape.   I think it’s a toss up, and probably system dependent, whether the “SH master” or the Japanese CD is better, but both beat the MFSL. ‘Where’d half the people go?’”), By design, each succeeding Steely Dan album seemed to sound better than the last. The Mobile Fidelity CD has its own glitch, too. Not realizing that there were NO copies of the Ludwig created masters in their files, the studios pulled the 15IPS Dolby EQ tape copies, and transferred THOSE tapes to the Sony digital tapes, and sent those to the US plant(s) for replication. According to Meadows, he was instructed to “pretend you’ve never heard the albums before and do what you feel appropriate” and given an almost open-ended time frame from Nichols and the band to put together the box. Despite my concern that coloured vinyl may turn out to be inferior, it's still in great shape after more than a thousand plays. According to Meadows, his Citizen Steely Dan mastering was approved by Nichols and the band with no changes. Aja was Steely Dan’s first platinum album, moving over three million copies and spawning three top-25 singles (“Peg,” “Deacon Blues,” and “Josie”) in the year of Rumours, Saturday Night Fever, and Never Mind the Bollocks — no small feat for a set of intricately crafted, jazz-inflected meditations on nostalgia, mortality, and failure. He speaks in a slow, laconic New Jersey drawl (he was born in Passaic), and when his wide mouth smiles, the grin resembles a sneer…. “They just told me to play what I felt…,” Christlieb told the Wall Street Journal. The particular musical syntax on Aja was in many ways uniquely Dan’s, however, the misbegotten result of Becker and Fagen’s own self-taught musical education. He made some phone calls, and told the MCA vault that they needed to find Sony Digital masters made atÂ, , and that they were the correct CD master source tapes. Question: is the ‘84 version at Tidal the Nichols remaster? I'm not sure what you mean by matrix.  There is a faint code - only readable from the back side - stamped into the CD just inside the silver data annulus - it starts out with 1AMCAD...". • Recording All-Stars Welcome Niko Bolas to METAlliance, May 14, 2020 Given that we know that the initial mastering of Aja both reflected the band’s artistic intent and made Aja an audiophile landmark, it’s worth investigating how the digital masterings compare to the original vinyl Aja. (Dias, who nominally remained Steely Dan’s third member, played on only one of Katy Lied’s tracks. This was a subtle improvement, but was obvious when taken in and out of the signal path. Nichols was just as enthusiastic about the possibilities of digital for home audio. When a mishap with the new DBX noise-reduction system damaged the Katy Lied tapes, the band undertook herculean efforts to fix the snafu and were devastated when the album’s original fidelity couldn’t be completely restored. 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