If Blood, Sweat and Tears was the Hertz of big band jazz-rock in 1969, then Chicago was most assuredly Avis. While BS&T was the trailblazer in the genre, Chicago developed a distinct identity as concerned spokesmen for the "we can get it together" faction of the youth populace.
The Second City men also put together an extremely direct, easily identifiable set of jazz-derived horn section licks which would not cause any trepidation among their millions of fans. As such their albums are certified RIAA gold approximately six months prior to release, despite the fact that their melodies are eminently forgettable and they lack a vocalist who exceeds the level of commonplace competence. Chicago is now in the position once held by BS&T: rulers of big band rock.
Perhaps it is not quite equitable for me to review Chicago. Scattered hearings of their previous efforts have bored me to the point of perusing the Bayonne, New Jersey shipping reports. Certainly their musicianship is beyond reproach (especially trombonist James Pankow, who is a bitch) and I do not doubt their sincerity vis-a-vis fair play in politics any more than I doubt Fatty Arbuckle's licentiousness.
But Je-sus, they are the penultimate cockeyed optimists. I'd go so far as to dub them the Adlai Stevensons of rock if poor Ad wasn't a loser and Chicago wasn't such a huge winner. I'll spare you any quotations from the lyrics for fear that you might have just eaten.
Their legions must feel somewhat swindled by Chicago V. There are no booklets on how to register to vote, no sepia-tone poster of a celebrated concert hall and no audible musical advancement, save for "A Hit by Varese," a bracing number in 6/8 with oblique horn voicings. "Varese" opens the set by asking, "can you play free, or in three or agree to attempt to try something new ..."
Apparently the answer is "no," as the band lumbers through the bulk of the album like a mastodon with shin splints. I wonder if Chicago devotees would desert the boys if they decided to abandon, or at least alter, their formula and challenge themselves a mite.
Blood, Sweat and Tears was in a creative rut not so long ago, and personally malcontented as well. The difficulties were compounded by the departures of reedman Fred Lipsius, trombonistpianist Dick Halligan, who arranged and composed much of their book, and David Clayton-Thomas, the singer who transformed BS&T into a household word in 1969.
The band's initial replacement for Clayton-Thomas, Bobby Doyle (who appears on the new record twice on piano), did not work out. Similarly, Joe Henderson was with the group for a few days on tenor sax before deciding that he'd be happier fronting his own quintet or in the studio.
New Blood, then, is the fruit of much sweat and possibly a few tears. It is also distinguished by some of the crispest, most involving and least fragmented work to be recorded under the BS&T aegis.
The group has selected its material wisely, adapting semiobscure pieces by illustrious folk like Teddy Randazzo, Herbie Hancock, Mann and Weil, Goffin and King and Bob Dylan. It was a perspicacious decision, for example, to open with Dylan's "Down in the Flood," a rousing stomper that is largely unknown to the majority of listeners. Lou Marini's arrangement gives the tune a foundation built upon Clapton's "Crossroads" riff (although it is certainly an older lick), the horns are fat and sassy, and new singer Jerry Fisher shows himself to be a worthy addition. He is a more controlled shouter than Thomas, although he lacks his predecessor's larger-than-life rugged magnetism.
The four-piece horn section plays 13 different instruments, which naturally makes for more variegated ensemble colorations. The horns are spearheaded by trombonist Dave Bargeron, who deftly doubles on tuba for Marini's "Alone."
Two more smart moves by the group were signing up the fine pianist Larry Willis, who I recall from my younger days when I went to the old Five Spot in New York to hear Jackie McLean, and bringing in Swedish lead guitarist Georg Wadenius, who puts Steve Katz in the far more comfortable role of rhythm guitar. As usual, drummer Bobby Colomby (who did a nice production job on the LP) and bassist Jim Fielder are flawless.
New Blood is not without its moments of lassitude ("Velvet" and "Over the Hill") but the overall feeling is one of zestful rejuvenation. (RS 123)
(Posted: Dec 7, 1972)
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- A Hit By Varese
- All Is Well
- Now That You've Gone
- Dialogue (Part 1)
- Dialogue (Part 2)
- While The City Sleeps
- Saturday In The Park
- State Of The Union
- Alma Mater
- Song For Richard & His Friends, A - (bonus track, without vocals)
- Mississippi Delta City Blues - (bonus track, first recorded version)
- Dialogue (Part I & II) - (bonus track, single version)