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The Nightfly Trilogy ()


Chances are, Donald Fagen didn't envision The Nightfly as the beginning of a trilogy when he released it in 1982, but as he slowly toiled away at his solo career, its blend of autobiography and smooth, soulful jazz became the template for his music outside of Steely Dan. As the albums slowly unveiled, it became evident that each covered a different stage in Fagen's life: the first, 1982's The Nightfly, was a wry nostalgic look back at his younger years; the second, 1993's Kamakiriad, was middle-age with a sci-fi spin; the third, 2006's Morph the Cat, looked at mortality through the veil of the new frontier of the post-9/11 world. Each album felt more personal than a Steely Dan record and also had a similar sound -- reminiscent of Gaucho, but with an even heavier jazz bent -- so they fit together well as a trilogy, each gaining strength from the other two, so it makes sense that Rhino would package them as a box set called The Nightfly Trilogy. In many ways, this box is indeed essential to Fagen diehards, as it adds a fourth disc of rarities, including soundtrack contributions and unreleased songs, along with 5.1 mixes of the three albums and all the music videos for each record. Given this generous bonus material, it's slightly frustrating that The Nightfly Trilogy is presented as a collection of MVIs -- aka Music Video Interactive -- which is partially spectacular and partially irritating. MVIs are designed to play in either computers or DVD players -- not CD players, hence the "bonus" CDs of the three albums, bonus CDs that do not contain the bonus tracks on the set; those are compiled on a separate fourth CD -- as those are the players that can take full advantage of the multimedia capabilities of the MVI, playing the video footage and the high-resolution Surround Sound mixes, and there are "easy to load" MP3s so you can transfer the files to a portable player and they have liner notes embedded on the disc. Sounds good, but it's not the easiest thing to use, as there is, naturally, a separate application on each of the discs to run the audio and showcase the extra material, which is the only way to access the very good liner notes here, as none of the discs have inserts bearing either credits or Fagen's track-by-track breakdowns. In theory, it's nice to have this all digitally, but it's hard not to wish that you could just open up a booklet and read it all at once instead of cycling through each individual disc. Also, the bonus CDs do not necessarily read in computers, which is frustrating, even if the MVIs have the MP3s embedded on them (including MP3s of the bonus tracks compiled on the separate CD that is readable by computer; the bonus tracks on the MVIs lack artist or title information, however). Despite these format problems, The Nightfly Trilogy is easy to recommend to Fagen diehards, as the three DVD Surround mixes do indeed sound great and it's quite wonderful to have the music videos for all three albums at easy disposal. Plus, there's the bonus material, which contains a wealth of great music, highlighted by "True Companion" (taken from the 1981 soundtrack to Heavy Metal); "Century's End" (taken from the 1985 soundtrack to Bright Lights, Big City); "Big Noise New York," which Fagen wrote for a Spike Lee film but was never used; the publishing demo "Confide in Me"; "Hank's Pad," a reworked Henry Mancini instrumental from Peter Gunn to which Fagen added lyrics; and, most of all, a terrific cover of Al Green's "Rhymes," co-produced by and featuring Todd Rundgren. There's not a bad cut on this ten-track bonus disc, and it's a sublime supplement that helps justify the purchase of this maddening but ultimately satisfying box. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi Hide synopsis

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