Chicago: Chicago III
Based on my regard for the first two albums, when I saw the third Chicago album in the stores in early 1971, I purchased it without hesitation, even prior to hearing a single track. Not sure if I used some leftover Christmas money or a portion of the minimum wage I received for working at the school cafeteria, serving beverages to my fellow high school classmates including my fellow sophomores, but a large percentage of whatever I had in my wallet was tendered for this 2 LP set.
My next-door neighbor usually purchased the best albums, and I took some pride in anticipating I would be the one playing this for him the first time just as he had given me the gift of hearing those two first Chicago albums the first time. I also looked forward to writing my cousin in Oregon a letter proclaiming how good this third double album of this group I had introduced her to.
The only problem: this album fell far short of their landmark second album. I wasn’t expecting something as good, of course — though, I was hoping — but I hadn’t considered that this album would be several notches below. I tried hard to like it and at first comforted myself into believing that I would grow much fonder after multiple listenings, but by the fourth and fifth time through all four sides, I was no more fond of the album than the first time.
I eventually played the album to my next-door neighbor who, though not particularly impressed by the music, wasn’t deterred from later purchasing their four LP live album and their next studio album, the single disc Chicago V. I did write my cousin, but indicated my general lack of enthusiasm over the album in my barely legible handwriting that I sealed up and sent off through the mail. I listened to the album perhaps a total of six or seven times and shelved it — forever.
Now this is not a bad album — not even close. It lacks the coherence and the vitalness of subject matter of the second Chicago album with an unfocused diversity of songwriting and performance styles and non-topical songs like “Hour in the Shower.” It is neither epic or monumental, nor does it even hint at being such. The upside is that it still sounds like the same band as before and there are many notable moments of Chicago’s trademark brass-imbued sound and their signature-style of arranging and tasteful use of jazz chords. I definitely enjoyed listening to it again, fifty years later, and enjoyed that significant amount of musical passages that show off the same strengths of the group as the previous albums. When will I likely listen to it again? With the almost countless number of other musical choices available now and in the future, perhaps I may not ever do so.
Fortunately within a short period after I had purchased the Chicago III album, I read a decent review of a debut double album from a band named Madura, produced by the same producer of the Chicago albums, James William Guercio. I saw the album in the record store, liked the name of the band, remembered the review, and took a chance. To my delight, despite this being a band of only three musicians, the album sounded like jazz-rock and in spirit and quality was closer to the second Chicago album than Chicago’s third album. I liked the weird prepared piano track that opened the album, the continuity of the music of side two, David “Hawk” Wolinski’s keyboard work, Alan DeCarlo’s similarities to Chicago’s guitarist Terry Kath, the way the group extended their sound through use of multiple tracks, and the simple beauty of the last track of the album, “Talking To Myself.”
McDonald and Giles: McDonald and Giles
There is something very special about the percussion work by Michael Giles on the first two King Crimson albums and its playful predecessor, Fripp, Giles and Giles. For anyone who enjoys, even embraces, the drum work of Andy McCulloch in King Crimson’s Lizard but still misses that cleverly-punctuated battlefield-style of M. Giles, this is a must-have album. Ian McDonald dazzles splendidly on this album playing a wide array of woodwinds, keyboards and plucked/strummed instruments that are part and parcel to the wonderful fabric of the compositions. Add to this imaginative and well executed vocals, Peter Giles on bass, Stevie Winwood on organ and piano for the first part of Suite in C, brass and strings later on in Suite in C and side two’s Birdman, which takes up that whole second side, and you have a notably adventurous, intriguing, and often exhilarating album.
Harry Nilsson: The Point!
One of my favorite people of all time is my first girlfriend. Without getting into any details of why our relationship solidified into an incredibly strong friendship, I would sometimes visit her apartment and hang out, talk with her and her friends and occasionally listen to music. During a visit around 1974, I discovered that her roommate at the time had Harry Nilsson’s The Point, an album released in either late December of 1970 or January 1971. It was mixed in with numerous other albums in the shared record bin on the floor in front of the budget component stereo in what was the equivalent of the living room of the apartment. Spotting this, and this being a record I had not heard, I put it on, and was not only charmed by the music and its child-like story, but was surprised by the inclusion of “Me and My Arrow”, a song played intermittently on the radio in the spring of 1971 and for which I had a musical weak-spot for. Three years later, even though now I was solidly a prog-rock enthusiast, I still loved upbeat pop tunes, and appreciated Nilsson’s craftsmanship, gift for songwriting, and his relaxed narration on this album with its pop-philosophy message. Interestingly, I never heard the record again, or even “Me and My Arrow” until Fifty years later when re-listening to this on Spotify. It’s an enjoyable album: it brings back great memories of that time and sometimes that is all we need from art.
Other notable albums released on January 1970
Uriah Heep’s second album, Salisbury with its orchestrated, semi-prog rock, over sixteen-minute title track on side two, was released on January 3, 1971. Ken Hensley, keyboard and my favorite composer and contributor to the group, stretches both his creativity and level of contribution making this much better than their previous album.
Booker T and the MGs top their famous 1970 Abbey Road tribute album, McLemore Avenue, with the generally funky and somatically invigorating Melting Pot notable for its energizing Booker T keyboards.
Freddie Hubbard’s Straight Life, recorded in November 1970 and released sometime in January 1971, starts off with a head fake into free-jazz territory, but then quickly establishes itself as a swinging, somewhat funky hard bop album. I have Red Clay (his previous album), and some of his other releases, but never listened to Hubbard’s Straight Life (note, Art Pepper and Jimmy Smith have later released albums with the same name) until a couple of months ago. What an omission! This is a very strong, high impact album with some stellar contributions from not only Freddie Hubbard, but also the innovative Herbie Hancock, the soulfully warm-toned Joe Henderson, George Benson, the great Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette.