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Chicago - Chicago III CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.60 | 121 ratings

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4 stars It's important that those of you who came of age sometime after the 70s be aware that the group known as Chicago wasn't always the slick hit-making machine they turned into from the 80s on. In fact, in their early days they were as eclectic and non-conformist as they come and anyone with an adventurous ear should pay those corresponding records heed. After making a huge splash with their debut in April '69 and solidifying their relevancy with their second release in January '70 they showed tenacious resolve by delivering Chicago III shortly after '71 was rung in. That feat of completing three double-LP albums in the span of two years is an accomplishment that has yet to be equaled four decades later so their work ethic is certainly nothing to sniff at. Despite being road weary from touring almost non-stop, these seven musicians were still able to assemble a set of new songs that've stood the test of time and sound as good today as they did then. Obviously, these guys didn't take their success for granted.

Keyboardist Robert Lamm's opening song, "Sing a Mean Tune Kid," instantly dispels any notions that the band's emphasis was becoming fixated on trying to scale the Top 40 charts. Its loose count-off leading to Terry Kath's wah-wah guitar precedes the lively funk beat that punches in presently but the true stars of this jazz/rock number are the rowdy members of the horn section (Lee Loughnane, James Pankow and Walter Parazaider) as they individually and collectively cause this track to sizzle. The song's complex structure is very progressive and Kath's extended guitar solo is wild and wicked. Lamm's "Loneliness is Just a Word" is next and bold horn blasts herald the onset of a jazzy waltz feel that's full of confident energy. Robert injects a growling Hammond B3, always a welcome participant. Bassist Peter Cetera's "What Else Can I Say" follows and it's lighter fare but it still avoids being too formulaic or pandering to sit through. Terry's steel guitar is a novel addition to their sound and, thank goodness, he doesn't overdo it. Another "studio chatter" intro for the Kath/Lamm composition "I Don't Want Your Money" proves their willingness to portray themselves as imperfectly human. The tune is a bluesy rocker that sports some rough edges but Terry turns in a blistering guitar lead and the brassy horns provide shots of bright colors. The ensemble's "Traveling Suite" has six parts but it's not as involved as one would expect. The principal theme surfaces in "Flight 602" in the guise of a CSNY-style folk/rock, harmony-laden ditty while "Motorboat to Mars" is a Danny Seraphine drum solo that's fine but somewhat less than spectacular. The charging locomotive that is "Free" is one of their most powerful tunes ever; chock full of kickass accents and an exciting horn arrangement that kills. "Free Country" is a cool piano piece augmented by Parazaider's serene yet unpredictably impish flute playing that morphs into a creature delightfully abstract at times. The vibes appearing in the late going are a classy touch. "At the Sunrise" shifts between ballad and light rock modes and the instrumental "Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home" ends the series with vocal la-las carrying the jazz melody up to the long jam where Walter's fluid flute flutters atop Seraphine's expressive drumming.

Robert's "Mother" is typical of their decidedly unorthodox approach in that the listener never knows where they'll take things next. Here you're treated to Pankow's construction of a ferocious trombone duet with himself in the middle of a song that is anything but a commercial sell-out. Cetera's "Lowdown" is the closest they come to doling out a "normal" pop song yet its strong political statement keeps it real and grounded. One aspect to notice at this juncture is how every cut has the earmark of a unilateral, collaborative effort where every member is actively involved in every track. Chicago III concludes with two multi-faceted compositions. The first is Kath's uneven "An Hour in the Shower." (He had an industrial-sized water heater, no doubt.) He starts with "A Hard Risin' Morning Without Breakfast" wherein an acoustic guitar strums below Terry's gruff vocal and the tune benefits greatly from the trio of horns. "Off to Work" turns it into more of a rocker, "Fallin' Out" goes back to the original theme but in a more aggressive way, "Dreamin' Home" is a showcase of Beach Boys harmonies sung over jazz-inflected chords and "Morning Blues Again" draws things to a close with a reprise of the first segment. It probably worked like a charm in Kath's (shower) head but it never quite jells. James' "Elegy" is more impressive. After the somber, spoken soliloquy of "When All the Laughter Dies in Sorrow" sets the serious tone a stately horn score arises for "Canon." "Once Upon a Time" shines a light on Parazaider's peaceful flute as it sails over a basic combo of drums, bass and piano before the rest of the horns slide in. "Progress?" delves into a dissonant brass arrangement spread over a blanket of nerve-shattering urban noises and culminating in a rude but fitting toilet flush. "The Approaching Storm" has an up tempo, motivating rhythm that fuels a spirited jam session. Trumpet, B3, sax, guitar and trombone all contribute hot rides in succession and then they conjure up a highly theatrical, dramatic but extremely satisfying finale in the aptly-titled "Man vs. Man: The End."

While Columbia Records surely wasn't thrilled about their stubborn, renegade attitude and ever-worrisome nonchalance when it came to producing hit singles ("Free" was the closest they came on this LP); their massive, loyal fan base was happy with their continuing to offer up rebellious, unconventional concoctions and they sent the album soaring all the way to #2 in the US and #9 in the UK. The windy city boys were staying true to their everyman calling on Chicago III by creating music that was both accessible and intelligently invigorating at the same time. The music you'll find on this record is also surprisingly undated and fresh even though over forty years have passed since it first graced the record bins. Three and a half stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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