WAR’s Lee Oskar cranks up the blues with Nearly Dan at Hwy 99

Introducing Nearly Dan and Lee Oskar, from WAR, pictured here. CREDIT: David Bristol

By the end of another successful Nearly Dan concert on December 30, 2009, Lee Oskar (that Lee Oskar, the one who helped found a successful jazz-rock-blues fusion band from the ’70s, War) was itching for another round — soon. “Hey man, I hope I did alright with the band. That was fun,” he told the band members.

Judging by the standing-room-only crowd at downtown Seattle’s Hwy 99 Blues Club, Oskar & Company did more than alright. They rocked the house. But then consider the source: a band put together with heart, soul and musicality, a band made up of outstanding players with their own gigs, recordings, collaborations.

The common denominator in this Seattle-based tribute band is its devotion and love of Steely Dan music. From what I heard, Nearly Dan took care of business, pleasing their growing fans and fast winning new ones. A couple who were warned ahead of time about how eerily similar the tribute band was to the real thing, found out for themselves when they scooted to the front of the stage, closed their eyes, and couldn’t tell whether they were listening to Steely Dan that time at the Gorge, or Nearly Dan, putting their own spin on the classic, “Aja.”

The superstar of “Aja” is undoubtedly drummer Bryon Atterberry, uber-charismatic with a fluidity and effortless control to his playing (he actually teaches and put out a well-reviewed DVD of his drumming techniques), and gifted with movie-star good looks. When he digs into “Aja’s” solos (a short teaser in the middle and a longer one at the end), he takes off without leaving the ground — essential in this specific song. Each time Atterberry does “Aja,” he improves, putting his own flavor in the carefully timed, intricately exploratory wandering, yet never losing sight (sound) of the piano’s home base.

When asked how the gig went, Atterberry was his usual enthusiastic, original self. The man gives good quotes. “It was fun for us ‘cuz we hadn’t done a dang thing since we filmed the DVD on Sept. 20th!” he said. “I told everyone to take their ‘don’t give a damn pills’ and let’s just rock! We did! Crowd was totally into it too. Lee Oskar was fun. He solos real well. We opened up some sections for him on songs that were up his alley. He couldn’t do the more challenging songs since the harmonic content is very advanced. We could do it again in the future but give him more ramp up time.”

The keyboardist assigned a bulk of the Donald Fagen rhythms and harmonies, Ed Weber, added that they only had time to stick Oskar in on solos at the ends of some song, but would like to feature him more in the future, overall. “We just need to arrange some of the tunes for him, yeah, maybe in the middle. Jack’s [saxophonist, who was on the East Coast visiting family for the holidays] good at arranging.”

Ably filling in for Jack Klitzman was Nathaniel Paul Schleimer, who’s done yeoman duty for Nearly Dan before. And, before the concert was done, Kelly Ash dropped by from another gig to sit in on backup vocals.

Nearly Dan’s working on finishing up their live concert DVD (from Triple Door) and acquiring future gigs, hopefully with Lee Oskar jamming along. Oskar can also be seen in his own regular Hwy 99 gig on the last Friday of every month, 9 p.m. Reservations are required.

Article first appeared in Examiner Jan. 6, 2010.

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