Steely Dan Sunday, “Reelin’ In The Years [Live]” (1995)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

Going back to Skunk Baxter-era material with “Bodhisattva” was cool to hear from the 90s Steely Dan band, but the first real surprise on Alive In America came on the following track. “Reelin’ In The Years” remains Steely Dan’s most recognizable song to many people, but the rendition they uncorked on audiences in 1994 would barely be perceptible to non-fans.

The electric piano figure at the start isn’t an obvious reference of the song until the drums, bass and the smart horn chart kicks in. Whoa, wait, a horn chart…isn’t that where Elliott Randall’s iconic lead guitar goes instead? That’s the surprise: Steely Dan jazzed up their torrid rocker.

The instrumental breaks do have guitar solos: one by Becker and a later one by Georg Wadenius. Neither of them is as on fire as Randall’s original but doing that would have gone against the swinging vibe of this take on the song. Together, they sandwich Chris Potter’s fab sax solo.

To me, at least, the main allure of this performance remains the horn section: those note progressions that effectively replaced the lead guitar parts are cunning and twisting, and Cornelius Bumpus, Potter and Bob Sheppard execute it to perfection, assuming there weren’t a lot of edits to this recording. Oh who gives a crap, it sounds good either way.

Given how the band had evolved from Can’t Buy A Thrill to Gaucho, it’s very plausible that Steely Dan would have recorded many of their early songs much differently had they done so in the later period. This live take on “Reelin’ In The Years” strongly suggests how they would have tackled these older songs in the studio after they shifted to a jazz direction. I’ll always prefer the original arrangement, but putting a little Count Basie into “Reelin’ In The Years” is one very good reason for the touring band to bother going back to the beginning of the catalog.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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