Chicago, “Prelude to Aire / Aire” from Chicago VII (1974): Saturdays in the Park

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Many feel VII is the last innovative album Chicago released. After the shorter, more commercial songs of the previous Chicago VI, the more restless and creative members of the band felt it was time to get back to the experimentation of Chicago Transit Authority through Chicago V.

This is just what producer/manager Jim Guercio did not want to hear. After the runaway success of “Feeling Stronger Every Day” and “Just You ‘N’ Me,” Columbia Records was pushing for more and more hit singles, preferably sung by bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera.

When Chicago told Guercio they wanted to do an album of “jazz songs, only jazz!,” Cetera expressed his doubts to Guercio. The two presented a compromise to the band, which was agreed upon: a double studio album (their first since Chicago III) comprised of half jazz-fusion instrumentals and half straight-ahead pop/rock. This was agreeable to both camps. The resulting Chicago VII, which contains three smash hit singles, was a huge seller. Everybody was happy, for perhaps the last time in the band’s history.

When one dropped the needle on the first record of Chicago VII back in 1974 for “Prelude To Aire,” however, the reaction was: “Huh?” Complex rhythms are pounded by congas and other percussion instruments. Some of this exotica is provided by future band percussionist Laudir deOliviera. Walt Parazaider’s flute enters with some presumably ad-lib flute lines which fit this bed of percussion and mellotron perfectly.

In keeping with the experimental nature of Chicago VII, keyboardist/vocalist Robert Lamm has added to his usual acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes and B-3 organ (the latter seems missing on this particular album). His keyboard set-up now includes various synthesizers, the aforementioned mellotron, clavinet and others.

The rhythms become more complex and Walt’s flute holds our attention until a quick fade to another conga rhythm. Terry Kath’s rhythm guitar chimes in and the horns play a complicated, chop-busting melody. The Chicago of pre-VI is back – and we fans of that era are in heaven. Walt Parazaider plays some really great flute fills here and there, complimenting the melody perfectly. In my opinion, this album contains some of Parazaider’s finest work.

After a trilled figure from Walt, a funk rhythm kicks in and Terry Kath plays one of his most complex jazz guitar solos. Terry’s work here is truly a master class in building a solo to fever pitch – without any effects – and bringing it back down. The melody reenters with more flute fills and we’re out.

“Prelude to Aire” / “Aire” kick off a most underrated album. For a group that professes to not be a jazz-fusion band, they sure sound like one with the first portion of Chicago VII, and they do a magnificent job of it.

‘Saturdays in the Park’ is a multi-writer, song-by-song examination of the music of Chicago. Find it here at Something Else! each weekend.

Bob Helme

Bob Helme

Bob Helme, a contributor to our weekly song-by-song series on Chicago called Saturdays in the Park, is a father of two with an MBA who still plays jazz part-time. Contact Something Else! at
Bob Helme
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