Walter Becker is one of those players whose proven himself the ultimate “comeback kid” as it were. The Queens native met Donald Fagan while the two attended Bard College. And of course they would soon be the core of Steely Dan. While the songwriting of Steely Dan was a collaborative effort between the two,Becker’s instrumental influence generally came through his guitar solos. They grew from a virtuosic blues rock style in the early 70’s to an intricate,crisp jazz tone later on. A serious of exhausting events led Becker to leave Steely Dan following their Gaucho album-remaining musically inactive for a decade.’
In 1993,Steely Dan reformed and began touring. Becker released his solo debut album 11 Tracks Of Whack a year later. With a somewhat more stripped down musical approach and vocal style closer to that of Eric Clapton,his albums were as critically successful as Fagans. But didn’t have quite the same commercial appeal. It would be another 15 years later that his sophomore album Circus Money. This was an independently released project from 2008 that featured the same superb studio players Becker had worked with in the past. It also started out with just the right groove on the song “Door Number Two”.
A bass and light snare based beat,crystalized sounding piano and bluesy rhythm guitar provide the intro-along with a moody electric piano solo. The basic rhythm of the chorus than comes in. This is a bossa with a clean guitar burst playing a single chord on every other bar or so-with the piano,keyboard and slippery bass line playing along with the female backup singers vocalizing the choral lyric. The refrain finds Becker singing a bluesy line with more piano improvisations behind him. Chris Potter provides a great bop sax solo on the bridge and extends it into the chorus that fades out the song.
Years of being a record producer and even a one time member of the sophisti pop group China Crisis really helped to enhance Walter Becker’s musical flavors as a solo artist. It wasn’t until revisiting “Door Number Two” for this overview did I realize that it has the vibe of a lower key “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. The bossa Latin/boogaloo funk is there in the rhythm. Still Becker’s love of jazz comes through all the way-with musicians Keith Carlock,Jon Herington,Jim Beard and Ted Baker all solo right in the pocket of this groove. And it all makes for a great example of jazz with a raw rhythm attitude.
Considering how many times they’ve been reinterpreted from within their own catalog of songs? Band members who have come in and out of the Crusaders over the years seem to able to find ways of expanding on the elasticity of their own compositions. And even styles of soloing with other musicians. In 2001 Larry Carlton,always a very reliable album maker over the years,released his seventeenth solo album entitled Deep Into It. As was usually the case? Larry surrounded himself with a small group of jazz/funk session players both old and new. And included two remakes of the Crusaders classic “Put It Where You Want It”-one of which was an extended version that really caught my ear in particular.
It all starts with a burst of organ from Ricky Peterson,which burns hot and cold by turns over the intro as Larry plays a subdued bluesy guitar solo with an equally subdued percussive back-round from Paulinho Da Costa-while Chris Potter joins in with a like minded sax solo. Each of the main refrains of the song have this exact same flavor-subdued and slowed to a crawl. While on the main chorus the drums of Billy Kilson drives home the other musicians to higher musical power.On the third refrain,Potter drags out his sax solo into the same grits ‘n gravy attitude as Larry’s funky guitar.
This pattern extends itself through the remainder of this song-each musician taking a similarly themed solo over the stripped down musical backup. From the grooving Wurlitzer of Rick Jackson to the hiccuping slap bass of Chris Kent-all for the final five minutes of the song. By that time? Each musician are all playing the main melodic theme in a subdued whisper of an instrumental conversation with each other-really throwing on the strong,down home bluesy gospel/soul style melodic orientation of the composition to it’s fullest possible affect.
One of the things that strikes me instantly about this interpretation of the song is the fact it takes down an entirely different attitude than the 1972 Crusaders original. Both have a rather tight flavor-with the solos all taking equal presidents over understated unison playing. This version truly embraces the idea George Clinton coined that any groove slowed down to a bluesier crawl makes it funkier. Now this song was already as funky as one could get to start with. But this amazing sextet of musicians just take it directly into the pocket of the song. It’s almost as if to say that,by the time of the new millennium,each musician who’d been a Crusader at one point was able to bring that groove to any other musician they played with. And if you ask me? That’s a pretty amazing musical feat for the funk!
Filed under 2001, Billy Kilson, Chris Kent, Chris Potter, Crusaders, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Larry Carlton, Paulinho Da Costa, Put It Where You Want It, Rick Jackson, Ricky Peterson, slap bass, Wurlitzer organ