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CHICAGO VII

Chicago

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars almost four stars, but just missing it.

With the catastrophic (for Chicago anyway) 6th album behind them, the group rebounded with a double album (just like in them good ol'days) and a wonderful carved-in-leather gatefold artwork, things were looking upwards - artistically-speaking, because financially they were never better sales-wise. The album starts on the instrumental mode for about 2/3 of the first disc and in the process presents Chicago's finest moment, then suddenly slumps and almost returns to the catastrophic VI album, but the group sprinkled some good tracks here and there and they finish strong on the fourth side of this double Lp.

I'm not sure you'll find a more perfect vinyl side on the first three Chicago album than you'll have on the opening side of VII, and it might come as a surprise, but it's mostly drummer Danny Seraphine's doing (with Parazaider's help), both who are not usual songwriters in the band. Out of nowhere rise wild tropical percussions, soon accompanied by a haunting flute complete with Mellotrons and cello (yesireeeebob) and the Prelude leads to the Aire track a delightful Latino-influenced (obviously, they heard Santana), but the track is a fine instrumental that allows the group to show their chops, including a fine Kath guitar solo over a Lamm electric piano in the second half. Great stuff accounting for near 10 mins, including the prelude, and showing Chicago could indeed go JR/F. The following10-mins Devil's Sweet starts on Coltrane (!) grounds with an eerie sax line, before slowly building an ever-changing instrumental track that carries the listener through a series of ambiances and climaxes that make this track just as impressive as Aire. Simply the best flipside of Chicago, it's just too bad the second half of Sweet is almost marred by a (short) drum solo before returning to the Trane sax line at the start of the track.

The flipside starts quite well too, with Italian From NY, an electronic noise that leads the group in a Soft Machine-type of groove with Kath's guitar pulling another interesting solo. The short Hanky Panky transforms the previous groove in a more traditional Chicago-type track. Get this: so far, this album has been all instrumental and while HP is segueing into the Beatle-esque Life Saver, the vocals start in the second part of that track. And just when you thought Cetera would screw things up, he pulls a slow jazzy tune Happy Man? well the track is easily the worst from the first disc, but it is one of the man's better writings, with Lamm's electric piano doing much over bongos and congas. I'd have much preferred this song on the second disc along with Pankow's Searching So Long, actually much worse tune in terms of cheesiness with string arrangements, but more uplifting.

The second disc is certainly not quite as excellent than its twin and it starts with Mongonucleosis, a Latino-fuelled instrumental light jazz-rock tune that will please everyone, including demanding progheads. While Kath's Evergreens proves to be his best song since their third album (good guitar solo, but his second song Byblos, an acoustic ditty is not of the same calibre, even if it evolves electric, it also overstays its welcome. Cetera's second song WYWH > nothing to do with Floyd, though) is definitely the stinker (and sinker) of the album, a soppy ballad, as atrocious as was the up-coming If You Leave Me Now (Yesssir, that bad!!)

Call On Me is a normal Chicago-track that would sit fine on V or even on disc1 of the present, but the final flipside's best moment is Lamm Women Don't Want To Love Me, a funky brassy track that rivals EW&F or K&tG's best moments, especially when Kath's guitar solo happens. The closing Skinny Boy is also very funky, this time closer to James Brown or Sly Stone. A fairly strong fourth side.

Definitely the band's best effort in their second chapter (mid-70's) and while some would advise to go one further, I'll stop at this one, one that starts out incredibly well, then slowly fades , but there is now and then a stellar track to lighten up a lengthy double album that would've made a dynamite single disc affair if condensed properly. Definitely worth an investigation, even maybe even the investment.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#277961)
Posted Thursday, April 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Good vibrations

Having indulged themselves for the first (but not last!) time in recording an overtly pop oriented album with Chicago VI, Chicago pulled back from the abyss and recorded this altogether more satisfying collection.

The early jazz roots of their works were once again called upon as the foundations of this their fourth and last double LP studio set. A number of the tracks here had been developed over the previous year or so on the road, although it has to be said that the lengthy improvisations from which they emanate were not always regarded by the audience as the high point of the set. What resulted was actually a neat split between the two LPs, with one leaning heavily towards the jazz side, and the other more towards the pop rock.

The solidly stable line up once again visited the recording studios of their then manager in deepest Colorado, USA to work on the album, the band members getting it together in the country both musically and in extra-curricular activities.

The first of the 2 LPs, the jazz orientated one, consists of seven tracks, five of which are entirely instrumental. The trademark horns are first heard on the Pankow/ Parazaider/ Seraphine composed 'Aire', where they follow a defined melody reminiscent of the suites on the band's earliest albums. Terry Kath adds looser guitar to the piece, and Walter Parazaider provides flute. The longest track is the 10 minute 'Devil's sweet', also composed by Parazaider and Seraphine. The track features some superfluous percussion before the brass section imposes itself to introduce the band's ARP synthesiser to an unsuspecting audience. The track is perhaps flawed in terms of the overall indulgence, but it does demonstrate an admirable diversity in Chicago's thinking.

While the first three tracks, which make up side one of the first LP, keep things reasonably tight, side two sees the jazz side of the band's make up initially being pushed to the fore. Robert Lamm writes the first two tracks here, the first of which 'Italian from New York' is a tribute to Laudir de Oliveira, a guest percussionist on the album (although he was actually from Cuba!). The brief 'Hanky Panky', features the trombone playing of James Pankow. Lamm also wrote 'Life saver', the first track on the album to feature vocals (by Lamm). As soon as the vocals come in, the track immediately tightens up then closes with a repetitive chorus. Peter Cetera's first compositional credit 'Happy man' closes side 2. This inoffensive pop ditty was later covered by the pop act Dawn.

James Pankow's "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" continues the soft ballad style, Peter Cetera providing the slushy vocal over some equally slushy orchestration. Pankow's final track for the album, the instrumental "Mongonucleosis" offers a wonderful demonstration of his brass arrangement skills, and as such is a highlight of the album.

Lee Loughnane takes on lead vocal duties for the first time ever on Kath's 'Song of the evergreens', a song which only reveals itself midway through, when the pace is lifted and a rather enjoyable romp develops. The oddly named 'Byblos' takes its name from a jazz club in Tokyo, Japan where the band has a weeks residency. The track continues the relaxed pop balladry with soft jazzy overtones. A rehearsal version of the track is included as a bonus on the CD version of the album.

Peter Cetera's 'Wishing you were here' has some nice soundscapes, but the multi- tracking of his vocals is a mistake, the contrasts with Terry Kath's understated delivery being too jarring. The track features the Beach Boys on backing vocals, mainly because Chicago's manager James Guercio had recently become the Beach Boys manager and bassist.

If Lee Loughnane first attempt a lead vocal had been largely satisfactory, his first foray into the songwriting arena was commercially impressive. 'Call on me', sung by Cetera delivered another big hit for the band, in their homeland at least. The song is light, but has a good brass arrangement and a pleasing vitality. 'Women Don't Want to Love Me" comes closer to the disappointing content of 'Chicago VI', with funky guitar and brass being the order of the day. The album closes with 'Skinny boy', a song originally intended by Robert Lamm for his first solo album. The track features backing vocals by The Pointer Sisters, but is largely forgettable.

In all, a more satisfactory album than its predecessor, which sees the band getting back to what they do best. The commercial orientation of the second LP ensured commercial success, while the more adventurous content of disc 1 showed that the band still wished to be taken seriously beyond the pop charts. The album lacks a killer track as such, but overall it exudes enough quality to make it worthwhile.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#377595)
Posted Monday, January 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars By 1973 the Chicago mob was undoubtedly aware of the spectacular advancements being made in the realm of jazz/rock fusion. One of the most popular groups on the planet, Santana, had brazenly eschewed their "hit machine" image via their landmark "Caravanserai" LP, Mahavishnu Orchestra had brought ferocious avant garde jazz out of cult status, stunning packed rock & roll arenas with it and exploratory groups like Weather Report, Return to Forever and Herbie Hancock's Headhunters were not only revolutionizing the fusion genre but cultivating enthusiastic audiences, making them hungry for more. Since Chicago's brassy rock competitors (Blood, Sweat & Tears in particular) had evaporated into the ether one by one they found themselves in a position somewhat like Alexander the Great in that there was no more land to conquer. Hit singles no longer thrilled them and touring the globe had long ago lost its glossy veneer. Eyeing the fun their jazzy peers were having, they yearned more and more to return to their fusion roots, find similar fulfillment and reignite the creative flame that, as the 60s drew to a close, had thrust them into the vanguard of a fresh chapter in the evolution of jazz.

Evidently they'd been leaning toward doing a jazz-laden record for some time, developing material in rehearsals and sound checks that would justify such an undertaking. The results were so invigorating that when it came time to go back into Caribou Studios they were excited about making a new album, more than they'd been in years. Despite the presence of a pair of Chicken Little party poopers (bassist Peter Cetera and producer James Guercio, both of whom predicted a veritable apocalypse should the group dare challenge their fans by presenting them with anything more complicated than "Color My World") the ensemble stuck to their guns and followed their hearts instead of their pocketbooks. They ended up with so many excellent tunes on tape that they were forced to return to the double LP format they'd abandoned after their third studio album in order to get it all out there in front of the public. Their determination and resistance to being artistic conservatives paid off. The record is one of their best efforts and one that they have every right to be proud of.

Speaking of Santana, the first time I lowered my needle onto the black vinyl of Chicago VII I thought there must've been a disc swap-out at the factory. Stickman Danny Seraphine's "Prelude to Aire" consists mainly of congas, muted drums and Walter Parazaider's flighty flute, not their usual routine. More surprises ensue in Walter and James Pankow's "Aire," a jazz instrumental built on a delightful swing in 7/8 time where the involved horn score belies a healthy respect for their big band ancestors. Guitarist Terry Kath's extended ride is one of his finest and Parazaider's fiery flute runs help make this a stunning ear-opener. Walt and Danny's "Devil's Sweet" has a fusionistic beginning that's jaw-dropping in its utter disregard for commercial appeal. The drum solo is striking and dare I say that the segment that follows is wildly abstract? I kid you not. There's a palpable Miles Davis aura that slinks around this complex number, proving they were dead serious about doing something radical this time around. Guest percussionist Laudir de Oliveira's congas and some spunky synth noodlings lead to Robert Lamm's "Italian from New York." The fact that we're this far in and have yet to hear anyone sing a note is very strange, indeed. The talented horn section is once more the focal point but Terry does inject a peppy, "talking" wah-wah guitar lead. Robert's "Hanky Panky" is mostly a drum-fueled, intricate intro to a jazzy jam where James' trombone impresses. They then segue to Lamm's "Life Saver." After laying down a funky groove and crowning it with a sleazy-in-a-good-way horn arrangement, they finally start to sing. Yet they throw another twist in the dough by electronically altering the lead vocal and, to top it off, adding a quirky, Beatle-ish repeating chorus.

The false start for Peter's "Happy Man" is a throwback to their earlier days, the song's light samba feel fits the romantic mood perfectly and the jazzy chord progression is alluring. Pankow contributed the tune that most personifies the album. "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" was a genuine head-turner that immediately captured the fancy of everyone who heard it because it was so superior to the average AM radio fare of that era. Not only does it touch on a subject that strikes home with millions but its blending of lush symphonic orchestration with a growling synth bass line in the second half is incredibly memorable. James' "Mongonucleosis" is a spirited, Latin-flavored instrumental delivered with mucho enthusiasm. The 3-man horn section never sounded better or more unified than they do on this cut and that's saying a lot. The album takes a nap during Kath's "Song of the Evergreens," though. It's a slower-paced, loping tune that retards the momentum. It does perk up later on but the whole thing is fairly disjointed. Terry's "Byblos" is an improvement. The Bossa Nova vibe is pleasing and it's comforting to hear their silky harmonies floating in the background. It's not a great number but kudos to them for staying with the record's jazzy motif and for their willingness to experiment with their "pop act" persona.

A waves-on-the-shore sound effect launches Cetera's wistful ballad, "Wishing You Were Here," one that benefits fantastically by having a trio of Beach Boys intertwine their expert vocals into the arrangement. The unexpectedly punchy bridge offers a stark contrast, setting it apart from the majority of their soft-as-butter hits. Trumpeter Lee Loughnane didn't write much but his "Call On Me" is not only a catchy tune but it charted highest (#6) of the singles culled from this album. Continuing the Latin beat mindset, this staple of "lite rock" gets a jolt from the bright horns that color the background along with Seraphine's spiffy drum fills. Robert's "Woman Don't Want To Love Me" is a case of Curtis Mayfield-styled funk receiving the Chicago treatment, making for a fun romp. Kath turns in a playful wah-wah guitar solo and the boisterous ending is in-your-face rowdy. Lamm's "Skinny Boy" is the closer, a soulful jaunt that's very cohesive. The decision to bring in the Pointer Sisters to pump up the chorus was pure genius. The song doesn't sound like anything else on the record and its uncharacteristically loose ending is appropriate for an album that takes a lot of risks.

The band, usually fast as jackrabbits in the studio, completely invested themselves and their time into four months worth of sessions for this courageous project and probably suffered through demeaning landslides of pre-release criticism, negativity and end-of-career warnings for its content. Yet the great ones don't sit on their laurels. Rather, they try to elevate the musical consciousness of their followers by giving them something they're not accustomed to hearing and, by bowling them over with quality material, they lead their flock into greener pastures and expand the group's freedom to be versatile. After two discs in a row that portrayed them as a band without a focused direction, Chicago VII was a treat for those of us who'd been waiting for these guys to unleash their jazz dragon and scorch us with their top-notch musicianship on more than just a couple of cuts. The nay-sayers were wrong. This record, despite a higher price tag, rose to #1 and remains a favorite of Chicago fanatics who just knew they had this kind of album in them. Four and a half stars.

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Send comments to Chicapah (BETA) | Report this review (#609694)
Posted Saturday, January 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Chicago strikes back with a vengeance after the decidedly lighter weight fair that was Chicago VI. Looking to strike a better balance between the the jazz and pop side of the group, they went back to the double album format. It is a full 25 minutes minutes and into 6th track before we hear the first vocals. While the group was already full of top flight musicians, they went out and expanded their horizons. They added some wonderful orchestrations, three Beach Boys and the Pointer Sisters to expand their sound palette. But that in itself, while very pleasing, doesn't seem very ground breaking.

What else is here you ask. A drum solo accompanied by flute? Check. ARP synth playing a major part on a track. Yup. They brought in a percussionist, who stayed for 8 albums, to give several tracks a Latin vibe. The horn section, which spends plenty of time front and center, deserves all the praise it receives. Same holds true for the 3 lead vocalists. What normally isn't mentioned when discussing Chicago is the keyboards, drums and guitar work of Robert Lamm, Danny Seraphine and Terry Kath respectively. Everyone here gets a chance to shine and does so convincingly. Even Peter Cetera, who is at times a lightning rod for the group for some lightweight pop fluff, plays a very fine bass that unfortunately is mixed too low.

So what is Chicago VII? It's an exceptional album by a group that did not rest on its laurels. They took the criticism launched at the previous album and used that as a challenge to make a superior piece of work that has many influences and styles on it, but kept it together as a unified whole. All seven group members had at least one writing credit. The pop hits are all well arranged and of course well sung, plus they hit an emotional note that many people can relate to . The non-hits are excellent forays into jazz, rock, Bossa Nova, fusion, folk etc that display the formidable musical muscle of a mighty group before disco, new wave and punk took it all away.

When I want to listen to popular Chicago, I pull out one of their many collections. When I want to hear what I consider their best work, I play Chicago VII.

5 stars

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Send comments to tdfloyd (BETA) | Report this review (#642982)
Posted Wednesday, February 29, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Well first off a big thankyou to Tom Ozric (who has introduced me to many bands and albums over the years) for insisting I get this one. To be honest I was content with CHICAGO's debut and their Live In Japan double album. I had felt "Chicago II" was just too inconsistant to give 4 stars to so why go on with their other studio albums which are rated far lower than it ? That's where Tom came in and after his sales pitch (haha) I bit and i'm glad I did.

I'm also glad Chicpah compared this to what happened with SANTANA because for me it's an interesting comparison. SANTANA like CHICAGO went into the studio to make a Jazz / Rock record and in both cases not everyone in the band was okay with the change. Why would you be when you were so successful up to that point. Well Carlos went ahead with it and to everyone in the band's credit they made in my opinion their best album. THEN those not in favour left. For me that was impressive. With CHICAGO if you read the liner notes Lamm states that part way through the recording sessions they just felt that if they made an all-Jazz album too many people would be alienated. I'm sure he mean't band members as well as fans there. As he mentions band members started to bring to the table songs with lyrics and more Pop flavoured material. So a compromise was made and we get a mixture of Jazz/Rock and poppier tunes.

The first three tracks are a tribute to Cannonball Adderley and his brother Nat. "Prelude To Aire" opens with percussion as flute joins in. Man I can't help but think of SANTANA here. Then the shock...mellotron ! I had to go on Planet Mellotron to confirm this and yes that is mellotron on a CHICAGO record. It will show up also on the song "Byblos". This is in part why I love this double album, it's different than your typical CHICAGO record as they seem to try different things. "Aire" is more of that percussion but with horns this time and flute along with prominant bass. A change before 2 1/2 minutes as guitar and drums take over. Horns are back later. "Devil's Sweet" has sounds coming and going along with relaxed horns. Drums and atmosphere after 3 minutes then it turns heavy with electric piano before 4 minutes. Guitar after 5 minutes and it becomes intense before 7 minutes followed by a calm then a drum solo.

"Italian From Newyork" has some weird electronics and percussion as it slowly builds. Check out the guitar after 2 minutes ! It continues to the end. "Hanky Panky" is a jazzy little number while "Life Saver" is funky to start before becoming catchy with vocals as our Jazz / Rock experiment ends. "Happyman" is led by acoustic guitar and a beat as the vocals arrive just before a minute. It turns fuller but contrasts will continue.

"(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" is a top four. Sure it's ballad- like but i've always liked it. Atmosphere, strings and vocals lead early. Love when it picks up 3 minutes in. The vocals and guitar really impress. "Mononucleosis" is catchy with intricate sounds. Horns too as vocals follow. Too much fun. "Song Of The Evergreens" is another top four. This sounds so good when it picks up after 2 minutes. Nice guitar solo too to end it. "Byblos" has percussion and intricate guitar. Vocals come in and this song is somewhat moving for some reason. Oh yeah I forgot it has mellotron (silly me). Backing vocals too but somehow this works.

"Wishing You Were Here" is a top four too. Love this song and always have. It's so different from how they usually sound and we also get three BEACH BOYS adding backing vocals in Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson. "Call On Me" is my final top four. This charted the highest of all the singles released from this recording. This is catchy with horns and vocals. Such a feel good tune. "Woman Don't Want To Love Me" is interesting with that funky groove with vocals and horns. The only song that really does little for me is the closer "Skinny Boy" which sounds like a Mo-Town Song. Funny but as i sat down to write this review the info on the site here says the Pointer Singers sing backup. Not surprised.

So yes a pleasant surprise and one I will enjoy for it's good songs and variety.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#802326)
Posted Thursday, August 09, 2012 | Review Permalink
Sinusoid
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars If you've followed the history of the band Chicago, very few would argue that their more ''accepted'' albums came in their earlier career when they were a rock band with heavy influence from jazz, particularly their first two records. As the years drudged on, Chicago began drifting into safer writing territories, poppier songs that aimed to hit the Billboard and condensed albums. That last stat is saying something from the only rock band in history to have their first three studio albums doubles.

Then CHICAGO VII comes along and something funny happens; not only does the first half indulge in jazz, but the jazz is more fusion than they have ever done. And it's mostly instrumental to boot it all. ''Aire'' adds to the plethora of memorable horn quotes from Chicago's catalogue, but the progsters would rejoice in the fact that the majority of the number is in 7/8 time. ''Italian From New York'' (written about guest Laudir de Oliviera who would later officially join the band) channels what Herbie Hancock was doing with bleeping synths and made a simple jazz track out of it. And the jazz aficionados can eat their hearts out to the Coltrane-influenced ''Devil's Sweet''.

The second chunk of the album (all of the second LP and some bits of the first) falls into safer, chart-happy avenues that Chicago had been reaching for since V. Either the weight of the jazz tracks makes me hate these pop-rock tracks even less, or it might be that there are actually some great pop songs here that rival the first two albums. ''Wishing You Were Here'' is not one of those pleasant surprises; that balmy, Caribbean overtone makes me sick, and the guesting of the Wilson brothers from the Beach Boys isn't helping. Somehow, Terry Kath took that same style of music in ''Byblos'' and made THAT track a little better; maybe it's just Terry Kath, I don't know.

There's still a lot of worth here. Pankow's ''(I've Been) Searching For So Long'' sounds on the surface like the lamest slow dance number since ''Colour My World''. I don't know what gravitates me towards this song, but I actually can enjoy this. It helps that it segues straight into a Santana inspired instrumental ''Monognucleosis''. ''Women Don't Want To Love Me'' has a great funk groove to keep the listener off their chairs.

The real winner of this record is trumpeter Lee Loughnane. Up until now, he's never had a songwriting credit for Chicago, and his ''Call On Me'' was a pretty interesting top 20 single. He even sings on the best poppier song, ''Song of the Evergreens''. It's Kath's writing again, so that explain why it's good, but that cascading to a climax effect (the band singing ''snow'' a bunch of times) usually works magnanimously.

This is really the forgotten great Chicago album, and I would rank this second overall in great Chicago albums only trailing the debut. Yes, there are a few schmaltzy pop tracks (thank you Cetera) that sort of create a buzzkill, but there are many other great pop tracks that more than balance them out. Furthermore, the opening romp of jazz pieces is essential listening for any jazz fan, and even prog fans might want to try to stick their nose in this one.

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Send comments to Sinusoid (BETA) | Report this review (#869506)
Posted Saturday, December 01, 2012 | Review Permalink

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