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Chicago - The Chicago Transit Authority CD (album) cover

THE CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY

Chicago

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.00 | 122 ratings

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Isa
Prog Reviewer
4 stars |B| Chicago = big band jazz + proto-prog. Oh yeah.

Here, by "progressive" we mean in the literal sense of the word, but also some of the conventional sense. One of the embryos of prog itself, in fact.

I first found out about Chicago rummaging through my parents' old vinyl collection, though I think I've heard some of their "hits" on 70s radio before. My theory professor at my college also suggested them to me after he heard the Zappa tune on the prog compilation I gave him. Needless to say, I got a hold of their debut (1969), expecting to hear some sort of half- hearted "embryonic" sounding album.

Instead, I heard a full blown experimental big-band-jazz-meets-late-60s-rock combination, and one that's very true to both genres, producing a very unique sounding group, and a very positive one at that. On top of that we have moments of complexity ranging to those of mainstream accessibility, such as the clever odd-meter inclusive piano intro in Does Anybody Know What Time It Is, moving straight into the catchy dance-able theme that garnished much radio play. Yet all the while, the band retains an incredible sense of artistic integrity and creativity, especially in the way the horns are arranged in each song. From what I gather so far it's their most artistic work as well, as they toned down the experimental side in only a few albums. It's also "Tales from Topographic Oceans long", with most songs clocking in over 5 or 6 minutes. So be sure to play through it on an evening with a lot of time on your hands.

On the tracks, the Introduction with Hammond organ and jazzy horns catches the ear instantly as something that's accessible and creative, as is the rest of the whole album (save Free Form Guitar...). I love how the horns' main lick changes from starting on the off- beat and the down-beat, almost throws you off a bit. Anybody Really Know What Time It Is I've mentioned, and I absolutely love the singer, and really just about anything about it. It puts me in a very carefree mood. Only the Beginning is an interesting piece, I especially like the hints at mariachi with the trumpets and latin percussion, give the piece a... spicy flavor. Questions 67 & 68 has an amusing intro for us music people, over and over changing key through suspension chords resolving to what keeps sounding the dominant, constantly delaying the main theme and key of the song. Then we have beautiful jazz-piano chords surrounded by a great vocal melody, aggressive horns on the down-beat, and appropriately subtle bass and percussion parts. Even the "outro" with the fading piano ringing out what sound like perfect intervals has strong hints at prog, or where prog would end up going anyway. This artsy-ness is continued with the intro of Listen, a single ringing guitar note leading into very seventies prog sounding material. The main theme or "climax" of the song is actually given to just the bass for two measures, very catchy and interesting choice. There are a couple horn sections that basically sounds like something out of Tarkus, with some dissonance supplied by the horns, so awesome! Poem 58 starts off with that typically fun electric guitar strumming. The lead electric guitar is all out distortion-heaviness, really fantastic solo by a skilled guitarist. Reminds of of Deep Purple a lot, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Chicago had a strong influence on their sound. Then the guitar plays a really almost avant-garde sounding lick with the horns, very strange and proggy.... again it reminds me of Tarkus. This is definitely the most prog-rock work on this album. Free Form Guitar is exactly what it sounds like: the guitarist fiddling around with super-distorted guitar sounds, sounding like a car engine and what not. It's in the vain of the "abstact" style that had some attention in that period. Unless you're patient enough for 7 minutes of such adventures, this tracks more for the skip button I think. South California Purples is more repetitive, almost more of a jam over a guitar lick that changes to the IV chord and has a cadential sort of section with a triple-hemiola every so often. Fantastic electric guitar solo though, as usual though. I love that part with the horns playing quartal/ quintal chords, nice and fat too. This is probably one of the less impressive of the tracks though. I'm a Man is basically the heavy metal of its time, the intro anyway. Again it reminds me of Deep Purple a lot, so much bluesy-ness combined with so much heaviness. Along with the use of latin percussion, this is a really unique and fun tune. Prologue August 29 1968, leading into Someday, starts off with a recording of a protesting crowd, soon yelling "The Whole World Is Watching." The best information I can get on the date is that it had to do with the Democratic Convention, but what exactly the band is trying to say completely escapes me. Someday is a good track, much like the rest of the previous album, though maybe a little less cheerful. Liberation is essentially one giant jam session, reminding me a lot of the Gumbo Variations on Zappa's Hot Rats, though a bit more thick. A brilliant demonstration of musicianship from the performers, but on the side of being long winded for my taste. It even has an abstract "atonal" section, leading into pretty clean-guitar based calmer section. This picks up speed with the fast-strumming guitar, blasting horns, to an awesome drum solo, ending on an energetic, positive chord. What a great way to end the album. Music as art? You bet.

In conclusion: this is a really great, innovative record, and being that it sold as many millions as it did (especially in America, oddly enough), I think it was also greatly influential on the bluesier bands of early progressive rock, and I'm sure a lot of the big names owned a copy of this album and utilized some of the musical ideas. And excellent addition for any collection, and essential if you're a fan of blues or jazz-rock, especially on the more accessible side of prog.

Isa | 4/5 |

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