CTA – Sacred Ground
At the dawn of the hard-rocking 1970s, Chicago blew out of the Windy City to populate the pop charts for the next several decades and earn their place in rock 'n' roll history. Back then a "horn band" was a brand new idea, and the group's wide-ranging brand of "jazz rock" carved out a whole new sub-genre. With searing guitar, blaring brass, a dead-on vocal blend, killer songs and an unstoppable rhythmic drive, the adventurous spirit and freewheeling musicality of those early Chicago recordings has never quite been matched.
Say hello to CTA. Based in LA and fueled by the creative passion and pure percussive power of original Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, CTA is all about a man – and a band – on a mission.
With the 2013 release of their landmark sophomore CD, Sacred Ground, CTA accomplishes that mission and a whole lot more. Working side-by-side with acclaimed guitarist Marc Bonilla, whose co-production, playing and co-writing are front-and-center throughout the project, Seraphine throws down the musical gauntlet with a collection of songs that takes the music full circle and lays a new cornerstone for the jazz/rock genre.
For Seraphine, Sacred Ground is the realization of a vision that began to take root when he left his former band in 1990. Fast forward to the 21st century, and CTA – The creative team of Seraphine and Bonilla, along with keyboardists Ed Roth and Peter Fish, and bassist Mick Mahan – came together in southern California with the simple goal of making the most of the music they love. It was an infectious idea. The band's 2008 debut, Full Circle, garnered critical raves and spawned some now-legendary live CTA performances. The album also marked Seraphine's long-awaited reconnection with his former Chicago bandmate, Bill Champlin.
Three years in the making, Sacred Ground takes Seraphine's vision to the next level. Aided and abetted by Champlin (and his son, acclaimed vocalist Will Champlin), along with an A-team of LA touring and studio veterans, CTA's skin-tight arrangements and pure musicianship maximize the impact of these 14 hook-laden songs.
With a funky backbeat and a signature horn line, the album's title cut – featuring a career-high performance from the younger Champlin – gets things off to an auspicious start, musically and thematically. CTA and company take the opportunity to stretch out on take-no-prisoners instrumentals like "Primetime" and "In The Kitchen," displaying a versatility and a virtuosity that feels like a breath of fresh, creative air across today's over-programmed radio landscape.
True to form, CTA also takes on a couple of choice covers. Larry Bragg's soaring vocal on the funky-and-nostalgic "Take Me Back to Chicago" will bring chill bumps and a smile to longtime fans, while his singing on the Blood, Sweat & Tears classic, "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" catapults Al Kooper's original to new heights.
By any definition, Sacred Ground is an eclectic collection, but somehow the brush-stroked balladry of "Go On" (delivered in a soulful near-whisper by vocalist Eric Redd) feels right at home next to the urbane, horn-driven shuffle of "Strike" (wherein the younger Champlin once again does his dad proud). The album's vocal high point, however, belongs to the Bill Champlin, whose masterful performance transforms the moving and cathartic "Full Circle" into the album's centerpiece.
Each individual track on Sacred Ground carves out its own space, but the overall theme – of self-realization, circles unbroken and musical rebirth – lives and breathes in every one of these extraordinary songs. For everyone involved, the making of Sacred Ground was a full-on labor of love.
"It's taken me a while to get here, but I feel like CTA is in a very good place," Seraphine says. "I'm very proud of this band, and I feel like we've made a record that will stand up for generations to come."