My all-time favorite rock group is Chicago. Period. End of sentence. KISS holds the place of first lover and I don't count the solo artists (Springsteen, Bowie) who are right up there. Chicago is #1.
As a child of the 1980s, I was one of those kids who wondered why Chicago 17 was titled thusly. The older I get, the more I like the older, adventurous Chicago of the early to mid 1970s. This was a band that started making music that they liked, got a few hits, recorded pop hits for the radio but still played album cuts of music that they liked and enjoyed. As the straight-jacket of the music industry enshrouded the band, solo albums emerged by the current line-up. And the man who continued the adventurous, searching nature of those early Chicago albums is Robert Lamm.
I'll review his superb subtlety + passion (2003) another time. Today I am writing about what some will see as a surprise but really isn't, if you take his entire solo oeuvre in mind: The Bossa Project.
Whoa! Lamm does a bossa nova CD? Is this just a marketing gimmick a la Pat Boone doing heavy metal big band (In a Metal Mood) or Paul Anka recording rock songs (Rock Swings) as if they were jazz standards? Not at all. This is an artist who got inspired and followed his muse. As Mr. Lamm himself mentions at cdbaby.com, he jumped at the chance to make a CD that excited him and paid homage to other artists in the bossa nova pantheon. And the result is fantastic.
On his myspace page, Lamm occasionally uploads rare songs or demos. He put these bossa nova songs up and I instantly fell in love with them. World music is one of my favorite styles with the soft, supple rhythms of bossa nova near the top of my favorite styles. It was a marriage made in heaven...but how does it sound?
Most of the songs feature Lamm's lower vocal range. Like other singers (Bowie, Elton John, Sting), Lamm's voice has mellowed with age. The lower, smoother range fits nicely within the greater context of bossa nova music. As a sax player myself, Larry Klimas's solos were sublime. Somewhere in heaven, Stan Getz is smiling. The flute just makes bossa nova music. And I found that I enjoyed the little things like the triangle. Be sure to put the headphones on for this one. There's a lot to hear.
In this age of overproduced, slick recordings, one of the underrated treats of this recording is its acousticiveness. (Yeah, I just made that up.) Sure, the 'orchestral programming' was computer generated (and some of the drums) but the rest of the CD sounds warm, immediate. There are places where you can hear John Van Eps's fingers sliding over the strings. That warmness is what is missing from lots of overproduced music nowadays.
The entire CD is worth listening to but I found my favorite songs were the three-song block "Send Rain," "Speak Low," and "Haute Girl."
As the summer 2008 starts, there is no better way to start it that driving with the windows down listening to Robert Lamm's The Bossa Project. Well, maybe there is one better way to experience it: at home, on the patio, cold beverage in hand, feet bare and tickled by freshly-mowed grass, the sweet smell of honeysuckle wafting through the air, the summer sun dying in the sky. Yeah, it's that kind of feeling. And you can get it, even when you are at the office, when you listen to this music. Treat yourself. It's a pitch perfect summer album.
[I don't know why I didn't make this comparison when I originally wrote this review. Lamm took a chance with this CD. Other singers took creative chances (Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions; Sting with the lute CD; Elvis Costello with the Brodsky Quartet, Anne Sofie von Otter, or jazz orchestra) and are better artists for it. In this day and age, with the fading of radio's influence, it's nice to see artists recording projects they want to record even if not all their fans follow them.]