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Frogg Cafe: The Safenzee Diaries

Let's face it, some bands put out damn good studio albums, but REALLY shine when it comes to live performances. Now, if you've never had the opportunity to check out New York's Frogg Cafe in a live setting, you really should, but if the opportunity doesn't present itself to you, the next best thing would be to pick up a copy of their brand new double live CD The Safenzee Diaries, the band's first release on 10T Records. Culling together material from a few performances (Orion Sound Studios, Forum Theater/NJ Proghouse, NEARfest, Nectar's, Downtime, Canno's Swiss Tavern, and Bluefrogg Studio), the surprise is that although these stellar renditions of Frogg Cafe classics were taken from a variety of different venues, it comes across as one complete live album as if it was all taken from one gig. Lavishly put together by the folks at 10T, the release comes as a double digipack with plenty of live photos adorning the set.

The music of Frogg Cafe is a wild mix of progressive rock, jazz-fusion, and jam-band elements, although after digging through this 14 song collection, it's the latter two that the band seems most adept at in this environment. The aura of Frank Zappa will always be looking over the band's shoulders (they were originally a Zappa cover band), as that quirky, complex, humorous, and "noodley" nature of the legendary musician always seems to permeate the music of these guys. Listen to the intricate & weaving guitar, violin, and keyboard lines of "Space Dust", which sounds like a leftover from The Grand Wazoo, or the lighthearted yet demanding musicality of "Leave of Absinthe", which also recalls Gentle Giant and the Dixie Dregs. If you like intense jazz, look no further than "Gagutz" and the melodic "Candy Korn", and prog rock fans will love the stop/start arrangements of "Il Gioco" or the full-blown epic statement "Creatures", which just might remind you a little of Happy the Man. A recent live crowd pleaser is the excellent "You're Still Sleeping", complete with dizzying violin lines, soaring vocals, jazzy trumpet, and acrobatic guitar work.

If the first CD doesn't hold enough drama for you, there's plenty of goodies on the second. Beefy bass riffs lead the jam-band gem "Small Chuwawa" (I can easily see the jam crowd groovin' and dancin' to this one), while "Fat Guys in Shorts" is a wild 70's inspired prog monster that should appeal to fans of Soft Machine and National Health with some ferocious guitar, violin, and keyboard passages. Another epic piece from the band's more recent repertoire is "Abyss of Dissention", a 14 minute extravaganza of prog, jazz, funk, and fusion styles, this one recorded at the famed Orion Sound Studios, home to many quality prog concerts over the last decade. The guys really pull off a stellar version of this song here, featuring plenty of thick wah-wah guitar, horns, multi-part vocal harmonies, and tight rhythms. Other killer numbers include the atmospheric jazz of "Tagliarini"", the Miles Davis inspired "The Gold Ambler", the exploratory "Asleep at the Wheel", and the avant-garde sounds of "Cut and Run", the latter something that could have easily come from the early days of the ECM label.

Let's give credit to this band-Bill Ayasse (violin), James Guarnieri (drums), John Lieto (trombone), Nick Lieto (trumpet, flugelhorn, keyboards, vocals), Andrew Sussman (bass, vocals), and Steve Uh (guitar, violin, keyboards, vocals), a group of guys who have really stuck to their guns over the last few years and continue to forge a path that is consistently gaining them more and more fans as each year goes by. This is not being done by some kind of image or marketing ploy, it's by the band creating music that speaks to people, is intelligent, and is accessible despite the outward appearance of its complexity. Plain and simple, they are a lot of fun to listen to. Check out and enjoy any of their studio albums, but if you really want to hear what Frogg Cafe is all about, the goods are right here on The Safenzee Diaries.

Track Listing
Disc 1

  1. Leave Of Absinthe
  2. Space Dust
  3. Gagutz
  4. Candy Korn
  5. Il Gioco
  6. Creatures
  7. You're Still Sleeping

Disc 2
  1. Small Chuwawa
  2. Fat Guys In Shorts
  3. Abyss Of Dissension
  4. Tagliarini
  5. The Gold Ambler
  6. Asleep On The Rim
  7. Cut And Run

Added: June 24th 2007
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Frogg Cafe Website
Hits: 6138
Language: english

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Frogg Cafe: The Safenzee Diaries
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-06-24 20:03:39
My Score:

New York's oddly-named Frogg Cafe will have you scratching your head - partly because you're wondering what the heck a "frog cafe" is, and partly because of their quirky, somewhat cerebral music. The band is progressive in the truest sense of the word - but don't be surprised if they find a limited audience in the prog fanbase, and enjoy a stronger reception in the jazz community.

The Safenzee Diaries is a collation of their better live performances played at venues like Baltimore's Orion Studios, the New Jersay Proghouse, Frogg Cafe's recent NEARfest appearance, and several others. The performances are close to studio quality, and unusual for a live compilation, the production is very consistent throughout the double-CD.

Beside straddling the the progressive and jazz genres, the band's deliberate dissonance is its most obvious characteristic - and when you first hear the discord you might be inclined to think of King Crimson. But it's more quirky than that, approaching dissonance for the sake of dissonance, and therein lies the challenge. But meet that challenge and the rewards will be worth your time. The music alternates between ranging jam sessions and drum-tight pieces that feature wonderful interplay between instruments. Listen for the complex interactions in "Space Dust", which features wonderfully coordinated guitar, bass and keyboard dialogs. This is a high energy sound - there's tons of activity, but you might wish they'd settle into a melody occasionally and let the music go somewhere.

The upbeat bass positively drives most songs and adds to that jazzy tone, and a violin is a constant feature - sometimes scratching its way through the music in a strident tone and a jarring dissonance that demands your attention, sometimes contributing a well-grounded accompaniment, and it dominates several sections - like "Gagutz", a jam-rock piece that takes on an Afro-centric rhythm that propels the hyperactive, lead lines of the violin and the flugelhorn. And speaking of brass - Nick Lieto's flugelhorn takes a central role in many pieces. It's a trumpet-like instrument originally made famous by South African jazz master Hugh Masekela, but most commonly known for the original 30-second score played in final Jeopardy!

Besides the violin and the horn, the mostly old-fashioned instruments give it a mostly old-fashioned atmosphere. Most of the vocals are delivered in a tentative upper-mid range, and recall several Gentle Giant songs - memorable, quirky melodies with loose pitch control. But the singing is rare and The Safenzee Diaries is - to all intents and purposes - an instrumental record. "Creatures", well known as the title track of a previous album, is somewhat different, though, starting with strong bluesy vocals and morphing into a wonderful guitar-led 11-minute instrumental jam session.

Very unconventional - and The Safenzee Diaries is an excellent point of departure for newcomers to Frogg Cafe. And we're still trying to decide if a Frogg Cafe is a place where frogs eat, or where people snack on frogs legs.

Frogg Cafe: The Safenzee Diaries
Posted by Ryan Sparks, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-05-06 12:54:51
My Score:

One of the best things about writing reviews for such an extremely well rounded website like Sea of Tranquility, which is so diverse and covers many different styles, is that I routinely get the opportunity to get turned on to new music. Sometimes the bands are new and other times it's just a case of me simply missing the boat the first time around and such was the case with this review when asked to do a roundtable review of the latest Frogg Café release, a live disc entitled The Safenzee Diaries.

It's really no surprise and much has been said about the members of Frogg Café once playing together as a Frank Zappa tribute band, however after one listen to the dynamic interplay of the musicians, the brilliant arrangements and stellar songs in this live setting it's obvious that there is a lot more going on here. I'll acquiesce to the fact that the overall vibe, sense of humor and complex arrangements of the songs definitely do have a strong Zappa influence to them, but one of the great things about this band is that it's hard to pin them down long enough to actually categorize them properly and therein lies a big part of their appeal. They utilize a wide variety of musical styles ranging from progressive rock, fusion to straight ahead jazz and combine it with an authentic jam band ethos, and it yields magnificent results. Over the course of this double set the listener definitely gets their money's worth as they deliver just over 2 + hours of some of the most daring and entertaining music imaginable.

The first disc is perhaps the more laid back of the two but it also finds the band at it's funkiest as well. There are plenty of early examples of musical fireworks on display, for example the middle section of the second number "Space Dust" has some excellent solo passages on the violin and keyboards which are reminiscent of early Mahavishnu Orchestra. Two of the longer compositions in the middle Gagutz" and "Candy Korn" also deliver in a big way with the former track delivering a lot of lengthy solos, most of them coming from violinist Bill Ayasse. The later number features a nice arrangement with the Lieto brothers, John (trombone) and Nick (trumpet) providing the majority of the instrumentation. "Il Gioco" highlights guitarist Steve Uh's mighty chops as he uncorks a lengthy solo of his own before engaging in a brief violin dual to close out the track. Two more epic tracks "Creatures" and "You're Still Sleeping" bring the first disc to its fitting conclusion.

The second disc begins with a very Phish like sounding track called "Small Chuwawa" which includes some shining keyboard work and a few lengthy Trey Anastasio-esque solo's from Uh. While the material on disc 2 may be a bit heavier and generally have a bit more bite, there are still plenty of examples of daring musical exploration to be found. Take for example the variety of strange mock vocal accents over the jazz groove on "Tagliarini" or gentle horn laden sounds of "The Gold Ambler". The disc concludes with two extremely strong instrumentals, "Asleep on the Rim" and "Cut and Run". The former track begins with more excellent soloing from Uh which is very similar stylistically to that of David Gilmour. From there the song gently lifts off into orbit with a plethora of exciting trumpet and violin passages along with light tinges of jazz infused keyboards. The closing number "Cut and Run" begins as a rather quiet, atmospheric piece but it arrives in a much different place, as it slowly builds in tension with multiple instruments competing with each other in the mix until the rather anti climatic fade out ending.

Frogg Café are definitely a band to check out if you haven't done so already and The Safenzee Diaries is as good a place as any to begin your quest. As for myself well, If you'll excuse me, I've got to head out to my local shop to get caught up on their back catalogue.

Frogg Cafe: The Safenzee Diaries
Posted by Michael Popke, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-03-30 16:36:27
My Score:

Some bands simply transcend any and all genre classifications. You know the type: A group that indulges in both country rock and an orgiastic flugelhorn solo in the span of about 12 minutes, squeezing some Middle-Eastern influences in between. A group whose members like the sound of burlesque and carnival music entwined. A group that combines a sexy disco vibe with an extended counterpoint vocal arrangement recalling Gentle Giant, Spock's Beard and Yes. In short, a group like Frogg Café.

Welcome to The Safenzee Diaries — a two-CD collection of 14 Frogg Café songs like you've never heard them before. Hell, three of them are even brand new tunes. While the band culls its influences from probably hundreds of odd sources, "progressive rock," "jazz fusion" and "jam band" are the easiest terms to describe this captivating amalgam of sounds. But unlike Frogg Café's three studio releases, The Safenzee Diaries captures the band in full flights of free-form fancy. Recorded at a handful of East Coast venues between 2004 and 2006, these songs burst with creative wordplay ("Leave of Absinthe" still cracks me up each time I read that title) and snazzy violin, trumpet and trombone solos. And surprisingly for a band that places so much emphasis on musicality, Frogg Café excels in the vocal department, with multiple singers. In many ways, this band reminds me of Umphrey's McGee — a so-called jam band that has greatly broadened its musical base in a very short time. So why do groups like Umphrey's McGee (deserving as that band is) receive all the attention while Frogg Café is relegated to cult status?

Before I go and impulsively assign The Safenzee Diaries five stars after listening once again to the album's most outstanding cut, the 14-minute "Abyss of Dissension," I must caution that there are plenty of eclectic twists here that may not appeal to all listeners — even adventurous ones. For example, dissonant violins and atonal arrangements are things you'd least expect to hear in a song called "Fat Guys in Shorts." Add the goofy spoken-word passages in "Tagliarini" that evoke a stoned Elvis, and you have the two most difficult songs to follow in a 136-minute set that otherwise has the addictive qualities of a sweet drug.

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