|Donald Fagen - The Nightfly|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Tuesday, 17 December 2002|
As part of the dynamic duo known as Steely Dan, Donald Fagen has had a successful career as a solo artist keeping true to the jazzy-pop stylings of his former band. The Nightfly is an album that Fagen muses in the liner notes is autobiographical, containing reflections of a boy growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960s. Originally released in 1982, The Nightfly was re-released for DVD-Audio in 2002 and includes a stereo track, a DTS 5.1 default track for DVD-Video players and a MLP high-resolution surround sound track, along with a bonus video of “New Frontier.”
Musically, the record is a rich composition that features a beautiful mix of acoustic instruments and high profile instrumentalists. While The Nightfly doesn’t have the hit power of Steely Dan’s Aja, it is a consistent record that keeps in line with the creative direction and overall sound of that landmark record. The most recognizable track on The Nightfly is the lead-off single entitled “I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year),” which has an upbeat groove and a sing-song chorus that is well suited for surround sound. All-star mixing engineer Elliot Scheiner provides an adventurous approach to this early ‘80s recording especially on the choruses. The MLP layer sounds sweet, detailed and resolute. The synth harmonica parts find their way into the rear speakers, which add to the three-dimensionality of the mix and add life to an older recording.
On all but the first track, jazz guitarist Larry Carlton appears on the record and, starting with the second track “Green Flower Street,” his tasty but understated chops start appearing. Scheiner does a great job of expanding the 32-track original version of the song into a surround sound mix that uses all of the speakers fully, without ever drawing too much attention to any one mixing decision.
“Ruby Baby” is the only song on the album not written by Fagen. While musically it stays in character with the album, to me it simply doesn’t pass the test of time in terms of songwriting. The track was written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who wrote songs for The Coasters and The Drifters and is an upbeat bluesy jam that just ends up sounding a bit silly 20 years later. What is notable is the depth of the bass as it is recorded on the master and is reproduced in the MLP surround mix. It is so low that you might play this track just to show off your subwoofer and how low it can go.
The title track, The Nightfly, is about a radio personality, written in a time when radio meant a lot to popular music. These days, radio has been relegated to waiting for MTV to break a new hit or playing the same 350 “classic” rock songs as if they are an oldies format. “The Nightfly” starts off with a bit of a disco groove but develops into the type of slightly odd chord changes that you expect from Fagen. The drums sound specifically good on this track.
Normally, mastering isn’t something that comes up in a record review, but Bob Ludwig does a specifically good job polishing the Elliot Scheiner 5.1 mix so that each track sounds uniquely beautiful. 1982 was not the pinnacle of recording technology by any means, but you wouldn’t know it listening to this DVD-Audio disc. It gleams with high-resolution detail. The surround mix is an adventurous one, adding life to music that would have never gotten much attention from me in 16/44.1 stereo. I know it is what we criticize audiophiles for, but this record sounds so sweet that its audio alone is worth the price of admission – especially this early in the development of the new audio formats. If you are looking for your system to sound righteous, try out this slightly dated, even a bit dorky record. The music may be a period piece, but the surround sound mix and mastering are a new work of art.