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(77:21, 10t Records)
Prolusion. The US act FROGG CAFE was formed in New York back in 1998 and in the twelve years that have passed since then they have been a rather productive band both as a recording unit and as live performers. "Bateless Edge" is their fifth studio effort to date and was issued in the summer of 2010.
TRACK LIST: 1. Terra Sancta 12:33 2. Move Over I'm Driving 7:59 3. Pasta Fazeuhl 14:01 4. Under Wuhu Son-1 8:22 5. Under Wuhu Son-2 5:36 6. Under Wuhu Son-3 6:14 7. From the Fence 12:03 8. Belgian Boogie Board 10:31 LINEUP: Bill Ayasse – violin, viola; mandolin; percussion; vocals Nick Lieto – vocals; keyboards; trumpet, flugelhorn Andrew Sussman – bass, guitar; cello James Guarnieri – drums, percussion Frank Camiola – guitar, banjo; bass John Lieto – trombones With: Sharon Ayasse – flute (3, 4, 5, 6, 8) Steven Sussman – clarinets (4, 5, 6, 8) Vessela Stoyanova – marimba (1, 4, 5, 6) Michael Kollmer – xylophone (3, 8) Jon Preddice – cello (3, 8) &: A few more musicians
Analysis. Frogg Cafe is amongst the bands that will tie up progressive rock fans in knots when trying to place them within a subset of this diverse musical universe or indeed when trying to give a general description of their overall musical style. While some regard them as a fusion-based ensemble, their output is much more eclectic in scope than most artists associated with that particular genre and more challenging as well. My take on their music, at least as far as this latest effort of theirs is concerned, is that its main foundation is a brass rock-oriented variety of fusion, with occasional excursions into the realms of symphonic progressive rock and chamber rock. Brass and reeds of various kinds dominate the proceedings quite a bit, and while not quite an ever present feature, the trombones in particular are given massive leeway throughout the album. And along with flutes, saxophones and other wind instruments, themes and textures are crafted and enhanced in a big way, from the joyful fanfares added to the first half of opening number Terra Sancta to the dark, twisted and highly challenging endeavors of final piece Belgian Boogie Board, the latter as far away musically as you probably can get from anything you've ever encountered described as boogie on previous occasions. Indeed, with some fairly advanced compositional and instrumental features, this specific effort is a full-blooded chamber rock creation. The only one staying put within this genre on this CD, and arguably the most challenging and adventurous excursion Frogg Cafe undertakes this time around. Chamber rock fans will also want to give the track Pasta Fazeuhl a good listen, as this style is given an elongated visit on that piece. But for the first hour or so of "Bateless Edge" brass rock-oriented fusion is the foundation of the proceedings. Tightly interwoven instrumental textures make up the musical universe explored, with violins and guitars accompanying the brass and reeds used to craft the motifs explored and the themes created. The melodies are strong and fairly advanced and challenging enough to warrant full concentration to grasp all the details, with multiple listens recommended to get into this particular musical universe. And while the album starts out in a joyful manner, the moods and emotions conveyed turn darker as this journey moves onwards, to the blatant sadness and bleak despair that get an outlet in the three-part suite Under Wuhu Son, the second chapter of that triptych sending the listener into one of the bleaker musical universes I have encountered for some time. Symphonic progressive rock is also a part of the repertoire of this band, and while their tendencies towards this style are given an airing in the vocal parts of opening piece Terra Sancta, Frogg Cafe devotes the entire composition From the Fence to this stylistic expression. A melancholic effort with a select few joyful bursts, this epic-length track made me think of Genesis and Kansas combined, but as Gentle Giant would perform them. Fairly advanced and challenging material in other words, rather unsurprisingly I might add. A diverse, eclectic and rather challenging effort in sum, performed and produced with the high level of quality such endeavors need to make a lasting impression and a listening experience that demands time and attention to yield its rewards.
Conclusion. "Bateless Edge" is a capital P progressive album made by a band that has a strong desire to make challenging and adventurous music of an eclectic nature and with a certain undefinable character. If you have a soft spot for advanced fusion and chamber rock, fancy elaborate brass rock-oriented escapades and sophisticated symphonic progressive rock excursions as well, you'll most likely find this disc to be one pretty much tailor-made to suit your needs.