Surround yourself with Chicago! With the recent release of Rhino's immense - and immensely enjoyable - new box set Quadio, it's possible to enjoy the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-honored band's classic 1969-1976 albums with added dimension: that of 4.0-channel quadraphonic sound. The nine Blu-ray Audio discs on Quadio (playable on all Blu-ray players) present every one of Chicago's studio albums from Chicago Transit Authority through Chicago X, plus IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits, in remastered high-resolution 192/24 DTS-HD Master Audio in both their original quadraphonic and stereo mixes. Hearing these classics in 4.0 surround is akin to hearing them for the very first time.
Though quadraphonic sound never overtook stereo in the way that stereo once overtook mono (and indeed, no surround format has yet replaced stereo as the prevailing audio format), hundreds of familiar albums were released throughout the 1970s in four-channel presentations. The multilayered music of Chicago has always been an ideal candidate for the immersive surround treatment (both Chicago II and V were released years ago in 5.1 surround on DVD-A and CTA was issued in quad on DVD only), and indeed, Quadio offers some of the most inspired quad mixes of the decade. This is clear from the very first disc in the box, 1968's landmark double-album Chicago Transit Authority.
CTA introduced the band's exciting and still largely unparalleled fusion of jazz, rock, pop, and soul. The seven-man ensemble, along with producer James William Guercio, offered something for everyone in their sprawling, stunning double-LP debut: big, hook-filled pop singles ("Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" and "Beginnings," both of which went Top 10 in the U.S.), heavy blues-rock (the wailing "South California Purples"), political agit-rock ("Someday (August 29, 1968)") and even seven minutes of searing, avant-electric guitar (the aptly-named "Free Form Guitar," courtesy of the band's incendiary Terry Kath).
Sitting in the center of a room equipped with a multichannel setup, you will feel as if the band is around you, creating a fully-enveloping listening experience. In 4.0, the blazing horn section of Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and James Pankow (trombone) plus Walter Parazaider on woodwinds sounds punchier than ever. Robert Lamm's keyboards sparkle, and the guitar and bass attack of Terry Kath and Peter Cetera are sharp and stinging, with Danny Seraphine's tight drumming more revealing than ever thanks to the discrete, separated mix. Vocals are most often up front and spread between the front right and front left channels, as quad utilizes no center channel as a 5.1 mix would. Seraphine's drums are usually up front, too, with the horns, woodwinds and backing vocals mainly in the rear channels. Even a familiar song can sound surprising when one instrument appears, isolated, in one channel, such as the guitar in the left rear channel of "Beginnings" or Pankow's trombone in the right rear for "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" There are fun effects when handclaps move from channel to channel in "Listen" and vocals do the same in "Poem 58." Such surprises will be found throughout all nine discs of Quadio.
Naturally, different elements of each arrangement come to the fore when separated in 4.0-channel. Though tasteful, these aren't subtle mixes. (They're ideal to showcase a multichannel system!) For those listeners only familiar with the stereo versions, it's almost impossible not to discover something new here. Chicago, a.k.a. II (the first album after the band was forced to streamline its name from Chicago Transit Authority, and another 2-LP monolith), might have been even more diverse than the debut, yielding two pop singles ("Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World") from composer James Pankow's seven-part, 13-minute song suite "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon." On the 4.0 version of the rhythmic "Make Me Smile," there's front-channel emphasis on the vocals and the taut guitar licks. Percussion instruments are frequently in the rear channels. The "Ballet" crackles with a vibrancy and urgency that only surround can offer. That goes for all of Chicago II: Terry Kath's four-part classically inspired suite "Memories of Love", Lamm's hard-driving "25 or 6 to 4" (on which the fiery brass takes a backseat, in the rear channels, and additional guitar not on the stereo mix can be heard) and Lamm, Kath and Parazaider's politically-charged "It Better End Soon."
Over the course of these nine discs, there are too many highlights to mention. One unforgettable one, however, is Peter Cetera's haunting "Wishing You Were Here" on Chicago VII. The vocals, which find Terry Kath and Cetera joined by The Beach Boys' Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Al Jardine, shimmer even more exquisitely than before. The late Carl's role in the blend, in particular, is even present. The distinction and separation between vocals and instruments is crisper and clearer than ever as a breezy, Latin-flavored groove washes over you on VII's Lee Loughnane-penned "Call on Me" or X's joyously steel drum-powered "Another Rainy Day in New York City." Lamm's composition gained more power with the addition of Laudir de Oliveira to the line-up on congas, shakers, guiro and wind chimes! Fans shouldn't skip over IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits, either, as the all-killer, no-filler album features numerous unique edits unavailable on the original albums. As was typical of quadraphonic LPs of the era, different parts were sometimes utilized on Chicago's quad LPs; listen for variations in the vocals of "Wake Up Sunshine" (II) or the echo effect on Robert Lamm's voice on "Critic's Choice" (VII).
This remarkably fertile, imaginative and creative period of music-making is commemorated on Quadio in a fittingly lavish fashion. Within the sturdy, oversized box, each disc is housed in a mini-LP replica jacket of the original (stereo) LP that is faithful to the last detail. Every original gatefold (from CTA through Chicago XII and on X) are recreated. So are the extra, raised textures on the covers to Chicago VI and VII. All of the extra "swag" originally included in those vintage jackets is here, too: booklets in II and V, posters in III, V and VIII, an iron-patch in VIII, a lyric insert in X, and all of the illustrated interior sleeves. (There's added protection for the actual discs; each Blu-ray is in a clear sleeve in addition to the replica printed one.) The Columbia logos have, of course, been replaced with those of Rhino, but longtime fans will delight in the exacting, meticulous recreations of the original labels (both custom and the era's standard Columbia style) on each Blu-ray. All that's missing from this collector's dream is a booklet with liner notes to place each album in context of the band's still-thriving career.
You don't need to be a dedicated audiophile with a high-end system to enjoy Quadio, produced by Steve Woolard and remastered and authored for Blu-ray by Craig Anderson. Any basic home-theater setup with a Blu-ray player four speakers will allow for fun listening. Of course, the impressive, high-resolution stereo mixes can be savored if your setup only has two speakers. It's also possible to seamlessly switch between quadraphonic and stereo simply by hitting the red button (for quad) and yellow button (for stereo) on your Blu-ray remote.
Potential purchasers should note two minor audio errors in the stereo program, both of which have been brought to Rhino's attention. The original Side Two of Chicago II ("Wake Up Sunshine" and "Ballet...") as well as "Colour My World" on Chicago IX are in mono, rather than stereo. (The quad program is unaffected by these errors.) It's been reported that the label will be offering replacement discs; email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Chicago's Quadio is not only one of the year's landmark releases, but a fitting gift from the band to its longtime fans on the event of its long-awaited Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. With the 50th anniversary of Chicago Transit Authority just around the corner in 2018, one can hope that the essential Quadio is, indeed, only the beginning...