Making almost perfect music that swung, jazz-wise, more than it rocked, not disguising its smarts or bitterness, Steely Dan has changed and changed again since taking over the radio in 1972. They actually changed context and contact with their audience more than anything else, retaining their attitude, obsessiveness and musically omnivorous ambitions.
They did snark before it was cool, they be-bopped, they name-checked jazz masters, they made chord changes that would trip up Berkeley grads — but I bet they got jazz-bos to play on their records because the parts were challenging — they made (great-sounding!) hits and acted as if they didn’t care.
The Jamalot Ever After Tour that rolls into SPAC on Friday naturally features ace talent: 11 studio-perfect and road-seasoned players and singers. Steely Dan may play live a lot more than ever now, but they’re still perfectionists. Singer Cindy Mizelle played here with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in May, for example; and bassist “Ready Freddie” Washington played for years with Stevie Wonder.
While Steely Dan was inventing its sound onstage and on their first album “Can’t Buy a Thrill” (1972), Panama-born drummer Billy Cobham was on a similar path. Helping invent fusion, Cobham knocked down the fence between rock (he played with the Brecker Brothers in the great but under-appreciated rock band Dreams) and jazz (especially with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra). Playing with unprecedented muscle on huge kits, Cobham didn’t just push the bands he played with; he seemed to alter the rotation of the earth.
In 1973, Cobham released his own first album: “Spectrum,” hailed as a masterpiece right out of the box. Since then, Cobham has played both rock and jazz here; co-starring in Jack Bruce (of Cream) and Friends at JB Scott’s and more recently driving a small jazz band at the Van Dyck where I saw him play a press-roll with just his fingertips: It sounded like thunder coming over the plains.
Cobham has returned to his “Spectrum” album, touring with a small band to play its smart, sizzling music, which he composed. On Saturday, Cobham plays The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) with keyboardist Gary Husband, guitarist Dean Brown and bassist Rick Fierabracci. 8 p.m. $29.50. 473-1845 www.theegg.org.
Talking about free shows last week reminded me of former Albany jam-rockers moe. playing a free Alive at Five show when Albany still staged them on Broadway. I can’t even remember the two other bands; moe. was so much better, and is the last band standing.
moe. has thrived so well that they host their own events, most notably moe.down this weekend. Now in its 15th year, moe.down returns to Snow Ridge in Turin north of Utica after some years elsewhere.
It’s their festival, so they get to play as much as they like. They love to play, so they’ll fire up six sets and likely jam with everybody. moe.down features 14 other bands, on two stages: Gogol Bordello, O.A.R., Lotus, Soulive, Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang, the Jerry Douglas Band, the Werks, Conehead Buddha, American Babies, Twiddle, Wild Adriatic, Aqueous and (moe. members’ side-band) Floodwood. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday and Sunday. $150. 888-512-SHOW www.moedown.com.
Today at noon, Keith Pray’s Soul Jazz Revival plays free at Jazz on Jay (Jay Street, Schenectady; rain site: Robb Alley at Proctors — 432 State St.). Pray’s Soul Jazz Revival is a five-piece instrumental crew inspired by 1960s rocking, funky soul jazz groups.
If you’ve seen Warren Haynes play in the past 20-plus years, you may have thought Haynes was his own guitar tech, tuning up, plugging in onstage. That is, until his actual tech Brian Farmer brought out another guitar, looking just like Haynes himself: round torso, long sandy-colored hair and beard.
Farmer died earlier this week, sad news coming via Facebook from “John-John” Burke, longtime tech for NRBQ and other bands. Fans applauded Farmer whenever he came onstage, one of the most well-liked techies working hard to make the stars’ shows possible.
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at firstname.lastname@example.org