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Chicago - II Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 June 2003

format: DVD-Audio
label: Warner/Rhino
release year: 2003
performance: 9
sound 8.5
reviewed by: Tim Hart

ImageChicago was one of the few ‘70s groups that consistently put out a string of hits, all with different lead singers. And different they were. Nobody had fused musical genres the way Chicago did. Their style of playing combined hard rock, R&B, jazz and furious improvisation from each of the band's seven members.

Chicago’s founding member, Walt Parazaider, a saxophonist with aspirations toward playing in an orchestra, was the force behind the feel and composition of the album Chicago II. In the beginning, he brought together trumpet player Lee Loughnane and trombonist James Pankow just as a way to make a little money playing clubs in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, Danny Seraphine, guitarist Terry Kath and pianist Robert Lamm joined. Later, Peter Cetera, who played bass, joined to form the remainder of what would eventually become Chicago. Kath and Loughnane were both vocalists, and Cetera’s tenor fleshed out the harmonies that were soon to be one of the band’s biggest trademarks.

Playing clubs and showing their musical prowess, “The Big Thing,” as they were called then, was getting a reputation as an incredible live musical unit, blowing away audiences with their blend of rock ‘n’ roll and blistering horns, something that hadn’t previously been done with this much success. They changed their names to the Chicago Transit Authority and completed a two-record album that ended up pretty much owning the FM airwaves at one point. The FM stations at that time were more apt to take a non-standard format and give it airplay, which is why Chicago even made it on the airwaves. There is no way that this type of music would even be considered for radio today, due to the fact that much of their music was in “movements” and “suites,” arrangements more for the orchestra setting than rock music of the day.

After shortening their name to just Chicago, the band conceptualized their next project. Composed mostly on the road between gigs, “Chicago” was the band’s refined effort at collaboration, which was done at several Holiday Inns in the evening after the gigs of the day were over.

The opening piano on “Poem For The People” starts out from the left rear surround speaker, and then joined by the horn section. The remix is especially good on the sound and resonance of the horns. The sound is more fleshed out and organic than the original recording. It has a more enveloping feeling that lends itself well to a 5.1 mix. In surround mode, there are benefits to the sound of certain tunes, like “In The Country,” which has this wonderful bass riff that fills the room from all channels with the effect of being present while the band is jamming. The resonant notes sound more natural and immediate with this presentation, kind of a “you’re right there” experience. If it wasn’t for this rich sound, having the bass coming from most of the channels might seem over the top, but the upside is this wonderful earthy resonance that doesn’t come across as well on the stereo mix.

At the beginning of a “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” “Make Me Smile” opens with the signature high-energy horns and segues into blistering guitar work by Kath. The leading edge transients really stand out with this cut. The intricate structure of subsequent tunes “So Much To Say,” “So Much To Give,” “Anxiety’s Moment” and “West Virginia Fantasies” is realized in a new way. The subtle layering is truly stunning, and a perfect lead-in to “Colour My World,” a ballad that would be played at a lot of proms for the next decade. It would also mark the beginning of the band’s production of several more ballads on albums to come.

The galloping drum riff at the beginning to “Now More Than Ever,” with the staccato piano and bass notes play mostly in the front 3 speakers, with a hint of resonance from the instruments in the rear speakers. This gives the listener the feeling of a concert hall. Sometimes this effect works, but on some tunes it doesn’t. On “Fancy Colours,” the tinkling sounds are coming from every speaker. You feel like you are in a cloud of crystal falling around you. Nicely done. But the piano coming from the left rear speaker, and the flute coming from the right rear speaker came off a bit gimmicky.

On “25 Or 6 To 4,” soaring guitars, horns and vocals thankfully are rendered in the front three speakers in the 5.1 mix. This familiar tune does not need to be treated to the full scope of an overblown 5.1 mix and is tastefully done on the DVD-A. The horns are pure, with accompanying guitar very resolute and vocals never overshadowing one another. At 192 kHz/24-bit, the stereo recording really highlights the original tune and brings out more of what first captured my ear years ago. Subtle sounds, like the whispery nature of the flute, or more in-your-face sounds like the leading edge transients of the guitar chords or horn notes, felt like they could cut through you if played loud enough.

The orchestral presentation of “Prelude,” “A.M. Morning,” “P.M. Morning” and “Memories Of Love” really take advantage of the multi-channel mix the way I feel it should be used. It captures, in different ways, the vocal and instrumental presence in these recordings. The stereo mix has a very different feel to it. Used in the wrong way, multi-channel can alter a great-sounding piece to a unlistenable one. With great power comes great responsibility. To use it or not -- therein lies the artistry in 5.1 recording and remixing.

The DVD-Audio menu shows the track listing, gives you the option of 5.1 or stereo playback, and will display the credits for the album. It will also display a different picture of the band for each tune, with the title of the track at the bottom. That’s it. Not a wealth of bonus material, but I feel the DVD-Audio is still worth owning. Stereo playback gives the listener a slightly better sound as far as resolution and soundstaging. Some tunes I liked better in stereo, like “25 or 6 To 4” and “Make Me Smile.” The stereo recording captures the original feel, and then some, on these tunes. The 5.1 does wonders with tunes like “Prelude” and “Memories Of Love.”

Overall, I like the mix of this recording. Tunes I grew up listening to have come alive in a bigger and better way. The sound quality is much improved, with better dynamics and resolution than you’ve ever heard. And the arrangement of the mix in 5.1 is tastefully done, with a few minor exceptions that aren’t glaring or distracting.

The DVD-Audio remix of this project will thrill those who loved Chicago in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Dolby Digital 5.1, which will play on all standard DVD players, sounds much more refined than the original. A 96 kHz/24-bit 5.1 recording adds to the format’s ability to dazzle you with sounds that highlight some of the tunes better than others, and the 192 kHz/24-bit stereo mix is fairly stunning in its clarity, resolution and presentation. The DVD-Audio is a bit lean on extras, having no bonus tracks, lyrics or video clips. But it more than makes up for this in the new production of this hit album. Enjoy.

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