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Frogg Cafe: Bateless Edge

New York's Frogg Cafe have taken a slight break for a few years, but are back with their fourth studio release, and first since 2005's Fortunate Observer Of Time, titled Bateless Edge. If that's not reason enough to celebrate on its own, the band also welcomed back into the fold original guitar player Frank Camiola, whose contributions on Bateless Edge are enormous. Frogg Cafe as a collective sound way more adventurous here, the musicianship and songwriting more mature, and as a whole, Bateless Edge shows why this act is one of the most daring bands on the prog/fusion scene today.

Much of what you'll hear on Bateless Edge takes all the best influences from Frank Zappa, Gentle Giant, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Brecker Brothers, King Crimson, and early Chicago, throws it in a pot with Frogg Cafe's own spice mix, and out comes some of the intense sounds you'll discover this year. Opening cut "Terra Sancta" can almost be described as the 'son of Inca Roads', a wildly addicting piece that starts off with some Indian flavors before morphing into a frenzied fusion/prog rocker complete with mesmerizing solos from Camiola, Bill Ayasse and his violin, plus plenty of tasty horns from Nick & John Lieto. Those wonderful horns, as well as some sizzling violin & mandolin from Ayasse, can be heard on "Move Over I'm Driving", before the ominous Mahavishnu Orchestra-meets-Red era King Crimson flavors of "Pasta Fazeuhl" comes to town, a song oddly enough inspired by Magma's set at NEARfest in 2003. Plenty of little tricky instrumental bits abound on this one, adding that Zappa/Gentle Giant styled quirkiness to the song as well. The three part epic suite "Under Wuhu Son" is a monster, with the first part "In the Bright Light" hitting all the right prog buttons, as gentle clarinet, flute, marimba, violin, and cello support Nick Lieto's soaring vocals. This moves right into the dark second movement "Left For Dead", a haunting blast of metal guitar riffs from Camiola, horns, keyboards, xylophone, and Ayasse's charming violin blasts. The final movement "Brace Against the Fall" is a breezy jazz/jam piece, and something that Frogg Cafe do so well. Camiola's torrid, Zappa/Fripp inspired guitar solo here is a thing of beauty, and closes out this epic suite in fine fashion.

But wait, there's more! "From the Fence" is a melodic mix of pop and prog, with floating Mellotron, trumpet, and some understated yet intricate rhythms from bassist Andrew Sussman and drummer James Guarnieri. Nick Lieto's vocals perfectly tell the lyrical story on this one, and the horn accompaniment is a fine addition. Closing number "Belgian Boogie Board", written by Camiola, is a quirky & complex instrumental, written for 27 different instruments and amounting to a 28 page score. Marimba, xylophone, flute, cello, reeds, horns, clarinet, keyboards, guitar, violin, you name it, it's all there, in one of the albums more demanding pieces, and a sure fire bet to please any fan of Frank Zappa's Waka Jawaka/The Grand Wazoo period, Univers Zero, or early Gentle Giant.

In the end, you'll know you've been through a challenging listening experience, but it's a highly enjoyable and satisfying one to say the least. Frogg Cafe have proved with Bateless Edge that you can take personal experiences and mold them into dark, complex musical song structures that can captivate the listener and keep them on the edge of their seat, and ultimately coming back for more.

Highly recommended!

Track Listing
1) Terra Sancta (12:10)
2) Move Over I'm Driving (7:59)
3) Pasta Fazeuhl (14:01)
4-6) Under Wuhu Son:
In The Bright Light (8:22)
Left For Dead (5:36)
Brace Against The Fall (6:14)
7) From The Fence (12:03)
8) Belgian Boogie Board (10:31)

Added: November 14th 2010
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 3307
Language: english

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Frogg Cafe: Bateless Edge
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-09-11 18:03:26
My Score:

There are some albums that really demand that you do nothing else but listen to them before you can really, truly have any hope of stepping into the world created by the compositions. Bateless Edge, which is Frogg Cafe's fourth release and their first in five long years, is undoubtedly one of those albums. There's no way that you can really hope to dip in and out of the amazingly complex arrangements of "Belgian Boogie Board", or the three part "Under Wuhu Son" and understand what is going on, or find a hook to grasp onto in the hope of suddenly "getting" the vibe. This is prog/fusion at its most uncompromising and daunting. It really is get it, or don't time and for those who fall under the spell of Frogg Cafe, I doubt it can be much better than this.

It is one thing to have the ability to play in mesmerizing time signatures and include as many instruments as a removal van can carry (with one or two strapped to the roof), however to have the skill to use those talents to build music with heart and soul is a rare thing indeed and Frogg Cafe seem to be able to do so with a jaw dropping ease. Whether it is the vocal led, but instrumentally stretching melodies of "Terra Sancta", or the contradictions of the bleak strings and guitar, against cacophonous crescendos of "Pasta Fazeuhl", the results are little short of compelling and astounding. However the deal made out by Bateless Edge is two sided. Frogg Cafe guarantee to deliver timeless music with emotional highs and lows, as long as you the listener, promise to devote the near eighty minutes that it takes to play the CD entirely to the music. Don't take your eye off the ball for a single second, or the moment is gone and you need to wait for the next stop to jump back on the bus. This is no casual listen, but the rewards are worth the time and effort.

Really Frogg Cafe sound like no one else other than themselves, however the best reference points would be Zappa or Gentle Giant, with a dash of Crimson to spice things up. That said actually tying the sound down is nigh on impossible as everything from jazz to prog, or chamber music to blues makes an appearance at some point. However the intention is never to show off or "dazzle" with technical ability. The fact that it does is just a bonus.

So pack the kids off to their Aunt's, close the curtains, make sure you've quenched your thirst (although toilet breaks are not permitted) and keep your wits about you, because I'm just about to press play and no daydreaming is allowed. Just open your mind, clear your ears and let yourself be immersed into the world of Frogg Cafe. Prepare to be amazed, amused, stunned and seduced and be ready to clear your diary for repeated listens, I know you'll be back for more.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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