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Frogg Cafe - 2005 - "The Fortunate Observer of Time"

(61 min, Progrock)


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TRACK LIST:                             

1.  Eternal Optimist 6:31
2.  Fortunate Observer of Time 7:04
3.  Reluctant Observer 9:27
4.  No Regrets 8:13
5.  Resign 1:05
6.  You're Still Sleeping 10:43
7.  Abyss of Dissension 14:38
8.  Release 3:56

All tracks: by Lieto, except 7: Sussman.
Produced by Ayasse.

LINEUP:

Nick Lieto - lead vocals; keyboards, piano; trumpet & flugelhorn
Andrew Sussman - electric bass; cello; vocals
Bill Ayasse - electric & acoustic violins; mandolin; vocals
Steve Uh - electric & acoustic guitars; keyboards; violin
James Guarnieri - drums & percussion
With:
John Lieto - trombone
Steve Campanella - marimba
Izzy Mergen - congas 
Ed Macan - vibraphones 
Sharon Ayasse - flute 
Marjorie Ayasse - backing vocals 

Prolusion. FROGG CAFE is one of the most notable and most fruitful contemporary Prog Rock acts from the shores of the US (they're from the state of New York). The group was formed only five years ago, and yet, they have already four albums to their credit: "Frogg Cafe" (2001), "Creatures" (2004, review here), "The Fortunate Observer of Time" (2005, review below) and "Noodles" (2002, which is a live recording of free improvisations).

Analysis. Much like the band's previous studio effort, "Creatures", "The Fortunate Observer of Time" is a container of a wide variety of different musical styles, from mainstream Rock to the most eclectic forms of avant-garde music, though the said disciples are less typical for the album than those thus far unlisted. Let's go step by step. The opening song, Eternal Optimist, is indeed very affirmative in character and is the only immediately accessible track here. The music is a violin-driven 'stadium' Art-Rock with a distinctive American sound, much in the vein of Kansas circa "Audio-Visions" or "Vinyl Confessions", both vocally and instrumentally. The signs of Kansas's legacy can be also found on some other tracks, but mainly only in the vocal-based sections. The other points of reference include David Cross Band (which is not the same as King Crimson), Weather Report, Modern Jazz Quartet and Frank Zappa, though most of the material appears to be original, at least free of direct traces of influences. The instrumental title track follows the direction laid by (on!) the Eternal Optimist and also finds the violin playing mainly the first violin in the arrangements, the melody still being regarded as of paramount importance. However, this is full-fledged Art-Rock already, at times bordering on quasi Jazz-Fusion, due to the specific lines and measures provided by brass instruments and the rhythm section. There are only vocals and mandolin on the 1-minute Resign. Despite its shortness however, the song isn't meaningless, at least in words. In this respect, it matches well with the others, all being notable for a quite profoundly poetic content, which to a certain extent compensates the presence of repetitions in the vocal lines on some of them. Each of the other five tracks (and they run about 47 minutes!) is outstanding, incredibly demanding stuff, forcing you to fully concentrate to get into it, because otherwise you may be discouraged about the seemingly illogical alternation of melodic and eccentric arrangements, even the former being not as much transparent as they may seem to be. This music will never reveal to you its true essence upon the initial listen, even if you are a graduated Prog Fellow. Five members and five guests (among whom vibraphonist Edward Macan, the author of the book: "English Rock Music & The Counterculture", ex-Zappa, currently the chief of Hermetic Science) play various electric and acoustic, rock, jazz, chamber and percussion instruments, demonstrating their eventful solos and improvisations and bringing about a majestic polyphony. Reluctant Observer was destined to watch the strange meeting of refined Jazz-Fusion entities with angular aliens from the world of RIO. No Regrets and You're Still Sleeping are a fine American cocktail of Art-Rock, Swing and Avant-garde Jazz. Another instrumental, Release, is a chamber trio of cello, violin and flute, sliding carefully on the thin line between classical and avant-garde forms of Academic music. Although all these are remarkable, maybe the next to last track, Abyss of Dissension, is my favorite. This epic brings together all the components available on the other tracks, most of the vocal parts being performed in chorus with a strong operatic sense.

Conclusion. If you like the idea running through the review, "The Fortunate Observer of Time" will certainly satisfy. As for me, it was me who wrote it! But here is one more argument: Top-20-2005.

VM: September 7, 2005


Related Links:

Frogg Cafe
Progrock Records


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