Most of the players hail from the Moscow area, others are from Kiev, in Ukraine. They collaborate both physically and virtually in producing the most faithful and accurate covers of classic Chicago hits you are likely to hear. And you know what? Right now, in 2017, Leonid and Friends is performing Chicago tunes better than the real Chicago is performing them. Why do I say that? Well, it’s simple; the real Chicago has changed lineup pretty substantially over the years, through various means, and the new members have been contributing their own voices to the collective sound. And while they are all indeed world class, that collective influence has moved Chicago away from the sound that made them great, in my humble estimation..
Not so with Leonid & Friends; their mission is simple: fidelity to the original essence and to the original sound. As such, I’m pleased to point out the Vorobyev spent what must have been countless hours painstakingly transcribing each of the parts from every song they perform. His accuracy is astonishing; for each player in the band executes what is essentially a note for note re-creation of the original studio album parts. If you are a long time and devoted fan, you will hear the utter craftsmanship in each and every part; you will recognize every signature riff, you will delight in breathtakingly accurate vocal parts.
One place where the "Friends" deviate from stock just slightly in their sound is the one place where they have the least potential control; their accents. Clearly, everyone in the ensemble is an English speaker at least to some degree, or else they would not be able to sing these complex pieces so well. That said, their Russian accents creep through in many cases, but you know what? I find those accents incredibly charming. It is their way of making the performances uniquely their own, and it is clear that each and every member brings their love for and passion about Chicago’s music to their take on these timeless hits. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
MAKE ME SMILE
This one is actually my favorite cut on the album, and was my first exposure to the group. I love the split vocal duties between Vorobyev, who might be your tax accountant to look at him, and Vasily Akimov, whose more rugged countenance would fit in easily with any heavy metal band in the world. His gravelly tenor is a joy. The brass section OWNS this piece as well, with a micrometered solo section and taut crispness throughout the piece. Vorobyev plays the piano here, but is the bassist on most of the rest of the tracks.
25 OR 6 TO 4
Highlights of this energetic track are the soaring lead vocal of Kiev, Ukraine-based guitarist and singer Serge Tiagniryadno, and the note for note extended guitar solo from Sergey Kashirin, who on all these tracks looks like he’s having WAY too much fun, his joy is infectious.
WISHING YOU WERE HERE
This track shows the fearlessness of the band; this is a difficult chart to get right, and no effort is spared. Highlights here are the acoustic guitar work and the AMAZING backup harmonies; with added members Vladimir Popov (who adds flute to other tracks as well) and the truly luminous Ksenia Buzina. Special props to Vorobyev for nailing the difficult bass lick in the middle of the second verse! Lead vocals again split between Vorobyev and Akimov, to great effect.
SATURDAY IN THE PARK
Guitarist Sergey Kashirin is tapped for the lead vocal on this one, and he delivers an exuberant and playful performance. The inherent goodness of this track is best described by the fact that they got the groove right; this is a very specific pocket, and one in which it is difficult to land, and indeed the group lands it perfectly. A slight arranging twist on the ending from the original; a little callout to the Beatles, and it totally works.
WHAT’S THIS WORLD COMING TO?
Vocals on this indelibly funky track bounce between Kashirin, Akimov, and Serge Tiagniryadno. Incredible energy, and did I mention FUNK?? I need to mention drummer Igor Javad-Zade here. The aforementioned funk groove is largely his doing on this track, and he is a mighty, stalwart presence on every track. His rudiments are meticulous, and he is clearly a student of this music, because his playing serves it at the highest levels. A big shout out goes to keyboard player Vlad Senchillo here as well; he rips out a scorching organ solo that drives the piece hard.
BRAND NEW LOVE AFFAIR (PARTS 1 AND 2)
Vorobyev is back on keys and lead vocal on part 1 this piece. Vorobyev’s gentle baritone is pleasing and perfectly suited to this soulful section of the tune. As it shifts to the more bombastic part 2; Vasily Akimov’s guttural power takes the lead. I love this guy’s voice, and his presence. As before, it’s a great pairing. Shout out to bassist Dmitry Maximov.
DOES ANYBODY REALLY KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?
This familiar favorite is rendered faithfully by Sergey Kashirin on lead vocals, and the brass section (Alexey Batychenko on trumpet, Alexander Michurin on trombone and Konstantin Gorshkov on tenor sax) speaks with breathtaking clarity. One of my favorite Chicago songs is brought to life with boundless energy. They even had the spoken word breaking into the 3rd verse courtesy of Robby Hicks (billed as “Phone a Friend”)!
WOMAN DON’T WANT TO LOVE ME
Another trip DEEP into Funkytown with the sounds of clavinet, wah-wah guitar and blistering brass hits. Serge Tiagniryadno once again glides through the stratosphere vocally. Dmitry Maximov on bass again, he has intricate and complex chops and a fantastic groove. Really cool enveloped guitar solo from Sergey Kashirin. Odd-meter craziness is absolutely planted by the entire band.
COLOR MY WORLD
I thought this was an unusual cut to include on an album like this because of the original’s spare and sparse arrangement; but Vorobyev has a spectacular surprise in store:–a charming full brass section arrangement, and a luscious, romantic, obscenely beautiful orchestration that in fact choked me up at its climax. Leonid Vorobyev is a truly gifted arranger, and his embellishment of this piece is nothing but glorious addition; it takes the relentless accuracy a step further and adds originality and beauty that did not previously exist. Vladimir Popov’s flute is smooth and romantic.
This underrated and complex piece seems to be a place of special comfort for Vorobyev and his crew; the odd meters and syncopation pass with casual elegance and calculated precision. Popov’s flute solo is frenetic and atmospheric. The brass gets a superb break in the middle and Igor Javad-Zade’s drums are a special treat on this track.
What a way to close this amazing album out. We get one more taste of the towering vocal of Serge Tiagniryadno, the signature brass break, a full string section that made my breath catch in my throat when they entered (big shout out to members of the Caro-Bass Orchestra, and Chamber Orchestra Kremlin), tight and silky vocal harmonies, and the sheer beauty of hearing this tune brought once again to light by musicians of the highest order.
CHICAGOVICH is an absolute triumph. Leonid Vorobyev and the group of people he assembled have given the world a work of breathless beauty, incendiary power, and a powerful nostalgic trigger that will make any fan of Chicago ecstatic, and fans of most any genre excited to hear such a pitch-perfect tribute. It is important to note the love with which this album is executed; there are really no boundaries in the world. Music transcends borders, political and social ideologies, and geographies. I’m proud to live in a world that has Leonid Vorobyev and Friends in it.
Buy this great album (and the two followups) here!