Tuesday, July 30, 2013


California Transit Authority released their second full length disc in the spring of 2013. Sacred Ground is an electrifying, jazz-rock set with tasty grooves, razor sharp horn arrangements and great melodies to the fore.

The tracks are propelled by the immaculate foundation work of legendary drummer, Danny Seraphine. He is at the top of his game, surrounded by a group of impeccable players that include Marc Bonilla on guitars/vocals, Ed Roth on keys, Mick Mahan on bass & Peter Fish on additional keys. Special guests are Larry Braggs on lead vocals, Bill Champlin, Will Champlin, Wes Quave and Eric Redd on lead & backing vocals, Monet Owens on backing vocals, Luis Conte on percussion, Travis Davis on bass & backing vocals, Andrew Ford on bass (Strike), Rick Keller on tenor sax & flute and horn orchestration, Jamie Hovorka on trumpet & flugelhorn, Chris Tedesco, Walt Fowler, Rob Schaer & Gary Halopoff on trumpets and Francisco Torres & Nick Lane on trombones.

It would be fair to say that long-time fans have likely been waiting for something like this since Chicago VII.

Leading off with the title cut, Will and Bill Champlin deliver pristine vocals that float over a tight group cooking hotter than a blast furnace. It makes for a compelling opener, brilliantly executed. "The Real World" continues the onslaught with a signature Seraphine percussive intro, brass parts that could walk a tightrope and Larry Braggs' tenor voice tying it all together. Bonus points for Bonilla as his guitar takes flight in tandem with the horn section. The prospective listener is swept away right out of the gate, with a prevailing mood of joyous abandon permeating the playing. There are detours into the mists of the past with Seraphine's own "Take Me Back to Chicago" and a blistering cover of "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" from the first Blood, Sweat and Tears LP. Braggs excels, pouring his soul into the microphone. These pieces mingle seamlessly with the new material.

Tipping their hat briefly to what came before, CTA then proceed to musically tear it up, creating their own rules of engagement with feet firmly planted in the present. Experimenting successfully, they pull off some mind-blowing playing on the instrumentals "Primetime" and Peter Fish's killer "In the Kitchen", featuring Luis Conte on percussion. "Staring at the Sun" is another highlight, with Bonilla and Will Champlin pairing their voices perfectly. One of my favorites is "Full Circle", which Bill Champlin delivers in a classy, heartfelt manner. Poignant as it is perfect, the subject matter refers to Seraphine's own return to playing music after a long hiatus from the business.

With a record of this calibre, his efforts are more than welcome. It is not by accident that he consistently lands on lists that feature top drawer players.

Marc Bonilla deserves special mention for his horn arrangements, in addition to stellar writing and playing. The entire CTA crew is in rare form here. The production is incredible, with a clarity of sound that manages to retain the vibe of takes done live off the floor.

Sacred Ground is a must have for those who want to hear world class musicians coalesce, wrapping their collective energies around solidly constructed songs. There is not a note wasted over 14 tracks and you will return to this set often. Highly recommended listening. Own it right here

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