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French TV (USA) - 1999 - "The Violence of Amateurs"
(67 min, "Pretentious Dinosaur")


******

Mike Sary     - bass
Dean Zigoris  - guitars
Bob Douglas   - drums
Brian Donohoe - drums
Greg Acker    - flute & sax
John Robinson - keybaords
Jon Encifer   - keyboards
Cathy Moeller - violin
Kirk Davis    - vocals

1. The Kokonino Stomp                    4:42
2. The Secret Life of Walter Riddle      8:14
3. The Odessa Steps Sequence             8:42
4. Mail Order Quarks                     10:27
5. Tiger Tea                             12:13
6. The Fate                              21:40

Recorded and mixed from January 1996 to May 1999.
Produced by Mike Sary (the permanent leader of the band)
and Dean Zigoris.

Thanks to Mike Sary I have listened to all the albums by French TV, except for their first and second works. The latter one will be available on CD very soon ("Mellow Records"), whereas the debut album of this exceptionally outstanding band still remains in the shadows. In the first half of the 90s French TV released their new production each year, and now it's necessary to say that the last three years that the band dedicated to creation of "The Violence of Amateurs" have not been wasted...

The album.

1. The Kokonino Stomp. Opens with varied, very powerful wind instruments arrangements and several original electric guitar solos. The further arrangements of this unique composition seems to be developing beyond human understanding. Constant changes of chaotic (only at the first sight) arrangements, solos and sudden interplays between diverse instruments paint a vivid musical picture of mind-blowing RIO, full of the true originality, complexity and virtuosity. All the musicians spin together the thin yet intricate and fantastically beautiful web in the endless development of such incomprehensibly Eternal and the most positive energy as Music.

2. The funny beginning (just for a few seconds) of The Secret Life of Walter Riddle give way to an avalanche of arrangements, when great musicians play great RIO. A volcano erupts with lots of the most diverse solos, arrangements and improvisations from each musician. There is absolutely no simultaneous playing. Listening to the RIO music, please forget of such ubiquitous (yeah, I mean exactly Progressive Rock) things like repeats, chords and even interplays! The laws of RIO cannot tolerate any constancy, to say nothing of accessibility! But although each of the musicians plays his own theme (including bass and drums), it is impossible not to notice that all of these varied unexpected improvisations and arrangements are just the elements of the only united Harmony, which is the Queen in a given separate composition or its piece. After the question (yeah!) "Are you ready for more music?" the composition completes with a short original theme - a parody on the 60s years.

3. The Odessa Steps Sequence during the first two or three minutes sounds rather like Classic (Symphonic) Art Rock with some nice guitar and bass solos, bathing in the sea of fluid keyboard passages. This sea remains more or less quiet for three or so minutes. In the next move after powerful chords of synthesizer a bit gloomy basic theme is constantly changed by different, as if alien, motives - from fast and virtuostic keyboard solos to excellent "art-rockish" guitar passages to slightly sinister powerful chords by numerous wind instruments.

4. Mail Order Quarks opens like the previous track with the same "artrockish" solos and arrangements by flute, acoustic guitar and synthesizers. The next move begins with virtuostic semi-acoustic guitar passages, wrapped up with gentle yet "alien" webs of Eastern-like flute and cello. The passages of cello are soft and full of light sorrow, whereas the solos of flute are fast and breath-taking. Later on acoustic guitar with its excellent unusual solo joins the company of flute, cello and the rhythm-section. The final move of this composition is brewed in a more or less quiet key.

5. Tiger Tea. The first part of this piece looks more or less joyful with several merry solo from synthesizer, flute and piano. The following development is full of twisted, incredibly virtuostic and unexpected solos, arrangements and improvisations. In the next move lots of varied piano and synthesizer passages express several very original guitar/piano ideas till a powerful section of the wind instruments turns up. Different unusual themes and tempos change each other as if in a kaleidoscope. The arrangements are original, virtuostic and unexpected - immediately after the (usually) powerful sax sounds piano solo, etc, etc, etc.

6. The Fate. After a few vibraphone-like effects appeares the basic musical theme, led by the rhythm-section and arranged by varied solos from electric guitar and modern synthesizers. The further development is very unusual. Although the basic theme is back, the presence of many unique solos woven around it shows that this rendition of one of the compositions of the famous Swedish Zamla Mammas Mamma band is not at all a cover-version. New arrangements and effects, using the new pattern of developing the basic theme, new musical fields of tension, mostly by piano and guitar make of that old quite a smooth composition a real killer, which sounds like a special raw (exactly!) quintessence of the three main Progressive styles - Classic Art Rock, Jazz Fusion, and Progressive Metal. This is the only composition on the album, where you can hear obvious metal arrangements, real improvisations of Jazz Fusion, and truly Classical Sonate-like arrangements derived from Symphonic Art Rock. Lots of "uneartly" noises, eclectic electric guitar passages, which appear on the noisy fields like UFOs. However, this unique mix of such different genres of Progressive Rock cannot be described as a RIO composition.

Summary. Going song by song over the album, we see (or hear, if you wish) that "The Violence of Amateur" is a work incredibly original, which owing to the diversity of the songs doesn't deserve to be described even as one of the strongest RIO albums ever created. This holds true even when we talk of hardly a half of the album's compositions. Yes, such pieces like the Kokonino Stomp, The Secret Life of Walter Riddle and Tiger Tea are the great gems in the crown of the Rock In Opposition movement, within its frame these songs shine with exceptional originality along with such usual for that style things as constant development, incredible solos, arrangements and improvisations, outstanding virtuosity, the highest level of compositional comlexity... You will never find even a few bits of monotonity (much less such shameful regarding Progressive Rock words as boredom or routine!). However, French TV just confirmed once again that they are not a RIO band, and their using of the elements of the style is just a wish to explore this terrain. The rest songs (except for a very unusual rendition of The Fate from Zamla Mammas Mamma) show that French TV preserve their intrinsic structures. Seems that the French TV's motto could be the following: "To move forward constantly, at the same time remaining the same, exceptionally original band". What could be better? Back to me, I am sure this is a Classic for the future. "The Vilence of Amateur" is one of the three best Progressive Rock albums over all the 90's decade, in the company of Mongol's "Doppler 441" of 1997 and Garden Wall's "Path of Dreams" of 1994). content

VM. December 25, 1999


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