Wednesday, September 04, 2013

'A Hit by Varese'

This old tune by Chicago has been in my brain all day long.

Only super-talented musicians could perform this tune with its widely varying time signatures. Written and with a lead vocal by Robert Lamm, composer and singer on several of the band's earliest hits, A Hit by Varese, gives all of the original members of Chicago a chance to show their chops.

A band that included both formally trained and more instinctive musicians, Chicago's early work, including this song, presented a brilliant fusion of jazz and rock.

This is not one of their better known pieces. But it is definitely one of my favorites.


Charlie said...

I thought I knew Chicago, but I've never heard this before. I think they were my favorite band back in the day, and it was because of their musicianship and the jazz fusion you mention. Their raw talent gave them a rich sound that set them apart, and of course all that brass was unique in itself for a rock band. Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Moody Blues were two other bands with a similar musical sophistication that really made them stand out from the crowd. Thanks for sharing A Hit by Varese with us, Mark.

Mark Daniels said...

Glad you liked it, Charlie. It's from 'Chicago V.' This was, I believe, the last LP on which Terry Kath played lead guitar before his tragic accident. (He was a gun collector and, playing with a gun, tried to reassure a nervous friend that it wasn't loaded, pointed it to his head and fired. It was loaded and Kath was killed instantly.)

Kath's style could sometimes remind me of that of Jimi Hendrix, with whom Chicago toured early on.

What you say about BS&T and Moody Blues is true. Although, in the case of the Moodies, the instrumentation was an add-on of studio musicians. BS&T and Chicago were unique in that the brass and woodwind section were part of the band. They were intrinsic to their sound.

This piece, for example, written by Lamm, finds virtually every member taking front and center at some point without the tiresomely lengthy solos that afflict many jazz combos' performances. The only one without a solo, I think, is Peter Cetera. But his bass is so important to the piece, along with Danny Seraphine's amazing drum work, there's really no need for a solo.

Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed 'A Hit by Varese,' Charlie. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Donald said...

Chicago V came out in 1972 and Terry Kath died in 1978 shortly after Chicago XI was released. 'A Hit By Varèse' became one of my favorite tracks Chicago V came out in 1972 and Terry Kath died in 1978 shortly after Chicago XI was released. 'A Hit By Varèse' has been one of my favorite tracks since I first heard it as a budding 14-year-old musician in the mid-1970s. I play it for people whenever I hear someone criticize Chicago as being just some lame 1980s power ballad band (which in my opinion they were in the 1980s). They lost most of the dynamic musical tension that existed between Robert Lamm, Terry Kath & Peter Cetera with the death of Kath. It was the pulling in different directions at the same time that created the unique and powerful sound that was 1970s era Chicago.

While I agree with your analysis of the recorded song I disagree with your feelings toward 'jazz' solos. I enjoy the explorations that a good (even extended) solo brings to a song. There is a wonderful 13 minute live version of 'A Hit By Varèse' (Uniondale NY, 1977) that lets everybody stretch out and find interesting new areas of the song. This concert also showcases the under-appreciated talents of Brazilian percussionist Laudir de Oliveira.

Another incidental correction: The Moody Blues only used an orchestra for the creation of 'Days of Future Passed'. The 6 subsequent albums, from their classic period, were performed only by members of the band. The orchestral sounds you hear were produced by an instrument called a Mellotron (an early form of sampling that used a keyboard activated tape system for playback). It was mostly used by progressive rock groups like King Crimson, early Genesis and Barclay James Harvest.