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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
Score:
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2652
Language: english

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Frogg Cafe: Bateless Edge
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-11-14 05:54:06
My Score:

Pasta Fazeuhl

Ever since I initially heard the first two minutes of Bateless Edge, I knew I was in for a real treat. From the Indian-influenced opening and the Zappa-esque arrangements to the haunting melodies and superb musicianship, I knew that Frogg Café's latest album was going to be a real treat. And I was proven correct. This is a highly-original and enjoyable album that amazed me at first listen. The frenzied jazz rock mixed with beautiful melodies and progressive rock sections captured me immediately, and they don't intend on letting go anytime soon. Frogg Café has really crafted a superb album here: Bateless Edge is definitely something they should be proud of.

The music on this album is pretty unique. The most prominent genres are jazz fusion and progressive rock, although there are other influences as well. A song like "Pasta Fazeuhl" is almost purely avant-garde. The extensive use of xylophone, marimba, and various other percussion instruments give Frogg Café a distinct Zappa-esque sound. After all, they began as a Frank Zappa cover group. All of the songs on Bateless Edge are terrific, although the moody ballad "From the Fence" has always been my favorite. The vocals on that song are simply breathtaking. The opening track, "Terra Sancta", is another favorite of mine. One of the best things about Frogg Café, however, is how talented the group is. As I've mentioned, the vocals throughout the album are terrific, but the instrumental portion really takes the cake. Picking one musician out of the pack is difficult, but as a single unit, these guys are remarkable. One thing that stood out to me was James Guarnieri's drumming. He can go from an intricate prog rhythm to jazz rock frenzies at the flip of a coin, and I love that about his style.

The production on Bateless Edge is great. This is a really clean and professional sounding album.

Conclusion:

Bateless Edge is a really noteworthy album by this American band. If you like crazy jazz rock mixed with prog and avant garde, there's no reason not to check out Frogg Café. This is an exceptional band, and I can't wait to hear more from them in the near future. When an album is as unique, enjoyable, and professional as this one is, it'd be a crime to give out less than 4 stars. Although there is occasionally a section that's too drawn-out or slightly inconsistent, it's more than made up for in the end.



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.

Frogg Cafe: Bateless Edge
Posted by Jordan Blum, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-09-09 17:02:56
My Score:

Avant-garde prog has a tendency to simply drift along. The musicianship is always fantastic, the ideas are plentiful and rapid, and the timbres are vast, but there is usually a lack of cohesion and direction that prevents the music from being captivating. Bateless Edge, the fourth LP by Frogg Café, is largely a victim of this, but there are some interesting melodies and instrumental moments as well.

Bateless Edge comes roughly a decade into the career of the New York based quintet, and the specific players on the album are Bill Ayasse, James Guarnieri, Andrew Sussman, Nick Lieto, John Lieto, and co-founding member Frank Camiola. Sussman describes the 78 minute opus as a "…reflection on incidents revolving around our own personal lives…" Frogg Café effortlessly fuse progressive rock, pop melodicism and fusion jazz, Latin music, bluegrass, modern chamber music and avant-garde experimental, which sometimes results in a lot of remarkable playing that's best suited as background music.

The album opens with its best track, "Terra Sancta." Dedicated to "…children who lost parents on 9/11," the piece discusses the loss of innocence children faced as they watched the tragedy unfold in their classrooms. Musically, it's quite diverse and energetic, featuring horns, psychedelic guitar and constantly shifting rhythms. Their voice blend into pleasant harmonies and the middle section features nice counterpoint between guitar and piano. It's one of the more focused songs on the record.

"Move Over I'm Driving," with its emphasis on horns and walking bass, is jazzier. Unfortunately, it lacks any major driving force for listeners to engage with, and, because of its little variety, it goes on too long (you could basically skip to any moment in the track without it really sounding different). "Pasta Fazeuhl" is more eccentric, frantic and technical, and thus it's more interesting than the previous track, but basically the same problems occur. At fifteen minutes in length, Frogg Café could have easily cut it down to a quarter of its length or just made it four times as diverse and appealing. The musicianship is very impressive, especially with the extremely quick spurts of intervals that are similar to what John McLaughlin did with The Mahavishnu Orchestra. There is also the more experimental and random bits that bare comparison to Deluge Grandeur. It's just too much for too long.

As per tradition in progressive rock, Frogg Café includes a twenty minute, three part (and three track) suite called "Under Wuhu Son." The first part includes beautiful acoustic arpeggios, sorrowful strings and foreboding harmonies, which are sublime. Melodically it's the highlight of Bateless Edge, and the way the vocals are accompanied by select instruments at different moments is fantastic. The second part opens with an electric guitar riff and maintains the heaviness throughout. It's fierce and dynamic, allowing the strings and horns to play around fixed bass lines and rhythms halfway through. Another affective melody returns for part three and the music is largely formed in the awesome time signature of 7/4. It's the mellowest section, which allows the listener to absorb it easily.

"From the Fence" is like a more classically influenced song by Beardfish. It's wonderfully arranged in that it constantly alternates between verses and instrumental breaks, and its momentum never ceases as it evolves. The way it shifts tones is great and it eventually conveys a sense of closure by the end, making it a standout track for sure.

Unfortunately, Bateless Edge closes with its most experimental and scattered piece, "Belgian Boogie Board." It's what would happen if Frank Zappa's 200 Motels and Uncle Meat were combined with King Crimson's "Larks Tongues in Aspic (Part I)." Again, the musicianship is incredible and the amount of instruments used is astounding, but it lacks direction and hooks. It really sounds like a movie score on LSD, and it's nearly impossible to focus on without going insane.

Bateless Edge is an extraordinary album from a musical standpoint, and it's full of superb songwriting most of the time as well. However, there are a few times when Frogg Café implements too much unorganized frenzy without enough substance and route. Granted it's astounding that these pieces could even be constructed and seeing it played live would be a real treat, but they ultimately fade into the background of whatever else you're doing. Even so, Bateless Edge definitely has more hits than misses and it will grab your attention more often than not, so it succeeds overall.



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