Frogg Cafe Reviews
Frogg Café – Bateless Edge (2010)
November 21, 2013 by progmistress
Though my reviewing efforts usually focus on recent releases, every now and then it feels good do break my own rules. This review should have been published three years ago on a different website, but, unfortunately, circumstances dictated otherwise. Almost unexpectedly, the opportunity for writing this long-overdue piece came barely over a month ago, when I had the privilege of seeing Frogg Café perform at the NJ Proghouse Homecoming Weekend – a triumphant return to the stage after years of absence, and hopefully not a one-off.
Born towards the end of the 20th century in the New York metropolitan area as a Frank Zappa tribute band named Lumpy Gravy, Frogg Café have been through their share of lineup changes. However, their fifth studio album, Bateless Edge – released in the early summer of 2010 – saw the return of their original lineup (including guitarist Frank Camiola), augmented by trombonist John Lieto, who had appeared on their double live CD The Safenzee Diaries (2007). Although highly anticipated albums may often disappoint expectations, this is definitely not the case of Bateless Edge – an effort as monumental in scope as the odd-looking contraptions gracing its stylishly grungy cover in muted shades of grey.
With the band’s six-piece configuration expanded by a host of guest musicians (including Steve Katsikas of 10T Records label mates Little Atlas) contributing a wide range of additional instruments, it is no wonder that Bateless Edge sounds big – symphonic in the true sense of the word. Indeed, in spite of the generic jazz-rock tag often attached to them, Frogg Café might be effectively described as the link between brass rock in the style of early Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Colosseum and progressive rock proper, with frequent forays into more experimental territory and a healthy balance between loose-textured jams and tighter, more disciplined compositions.
With a running time between 6 and over 20 minutes, the six tracks on Bateless Edge well represent their authors’ different personalities. Frank Camiola’s two ambitious contributions reflect his fascination with the more left-field fringes of the progressive spectrum (well displayed in his side project Cardboard Amanda’s eponymous 2006 album). The amusingly-titled “Pasta Fazeuhl” (inspired by Magma’s appearance at NEARfest 2003) is a veritable rollercoaster ride in which angular Frippian guitar forms collide with brooding, cello-driven passages reminiscent of Univers Zéro and hauntingly military marches in true Magma style, with brief yet intriguing classical touches, freely blaring horns and wild bursts of guitar. Album closer “Belgian Boogie Board” was originally written in minimalistic form for the Cardboard Amanda album, but was then expanded and rearranged as a 28-page score involving almost as many instruments – a true tour-de-force that might easily be described as RIO meets brass rock, a joyful instance of controlled chaos.
Nick Lieto’s contributions, in stark contrast with Camiola’s, are definitely the most accessible on the album, emphasizing melody and a bright, upbeat mood. In the instrumental “Move Over I’m Driving”, Bill Ayasse’s sprightly violin and mandolin introduce folksy elements in its choppy, dance-like pace, to which the horns add a quasi-orchestral quality, and all the instruments take turns in a call-and-response pattern. On the other hand, “From the Fence”, for all its 12-minute running time, is the closest the album gets to a conventional song with a lovely, easy flow enhanced by Lieto’s expressive vocals and memorable, almost Beatlesian chorus; Ayasse’s stunning violin turn lends an appealing Old-World feel to the piece.
Andrew Sussman’s own two pieces bring those two strains together, with plenty of variety and a hint of an edge to temper the melodic quotient. “Terra Sancta”, dedicated to the children who lost parents in the 9/11 bombings, opens the album in authoritative yet catchy fashion (at odds with the stark, poignant lyrics), driven by buoyant horns and spiced by Eastern instruments such as the tabla and Indian slide guitar. A more somber, slightly dissonant section in the middle breaks this deceptively upbeat feel, with the guitar launching into a very expressive solo before the reprise of the main theme. The second of Sussman’s compositions, “Under Wuhu Son”, is a three-part suite with another deeply emotional story behind it (this time a very personal one, as it refers to the musician and his family’s struggle to adopt a little Chinese girl), and acts as the album’s centerpiece also in a literal sense. The wistful, elegiac tone of “In the Bright Light”, intensified by lyrical violin, flute and marimba, segues into the surprisingly intense, metal-tinged riffing and forceful horns of the instrumental “Left for Dead”; then the intensity eases with the jaunty, melodic “Brace Against the Fall”, featuring a lovely guitar solo that shows Camiola’s more sensitive side.
Although my regular readers know that I am generally very critical of albums that I perceive to be excessively long, I will make an exception for Bateless Edge – the only album I have heard in the past few years whose almost 80-minute running time hardly has any negative impact on its quality. While there might be a bit of self-indulgence here and there, the overall level of the music is so high that those occasional lapses can easily be overlooked. With its tight musicianship and eclectic compositional approach, Bateless Edge celebrates the pleasure of music-making by offering the sonic equivalent of a lavish banquet. Though most dedicated prog fans will already have heard the album by now, those who have missed it would do well to give it a listen – or possibly more than one, as this is easily one of the best releases of the past few years.
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.
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
Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
“Frogg Café is a 6 piece band from the New York metropolitan area making music that incorporates elements of Zappa-esque progressive rock, pop melodicism and fusion jazz.” “Frogg Café’s music is also peppered with an appealing variety of other flavors including Latin music, bluegrass, modern chamber music and avant-garde/experimental.” “Their energetic live shows feature extended flights of group improvisation that would draw grins from any hardcore jam-band fan.” “All of the members of Frogg Café are university trained in music composition and performance, and this education and experience is quite evident in their mature compositions, prowess on multiple instruments, and wildly entertaining live performances.” “Frogg Café started out life in 1998 as a band called Lumpy Gravy, performing the music of their hero, Frank Zappa” (Source: Frogg Café‘s MySpace, 2010).
Terra Sancta – Sitar – like opening to this one, and I’m enjoying it right from the start. Then the signature ‘Frank Zappa –like’ horns and percussion chime in. The melody builds slowly with more and more instruments added. The drums are good as are the little guitar riffs that find their way through the storm like drums and sounds that surround. The vocals enter with impending doom lyrics mixed with that playful music that Zappa was so famous for producing. After the lyrics end, the band moves into an inspired jam session of the best music on the album. Solid guitar riffs come and go. They have a fantastic element of Steve Hackett mixed with Jimmy Hendrix, or Hackett with some distortion added in, but still very clean. The production on this one is excellent. Every note can be heard in all of its glory. At 12:26, one of the longer tracks, but it’s so good, you still want more. The final acoustic guitar notes close this one perfectly.
Move Over I’m Driving – This one is more of a Latin/jazz combo. A much looser piece that just kinda rocks and grooves with an early Sunday morning café feel to it. Since the title has driving in it, maybe it’s a drive out to the Hamptons. A cool jazz journey complete with solid bass, drums, horns all over the place, violin, and some lead guitar sprinkled in for fun. The bass in the middle is well pronounced and leads the trumpets and guitar on through the maze being created.
Pasta Fazeuhl – Lots of interesting sounds being played along with the bass and horns. But it really doesn’t pick up until the drums slowly build to announce the entrance of synthesizers, lead guitar and more funky rhythms than you can dare to imagine. Even sounds like a flute thrown in with that traditional ‘Zappa’ ‘amplified marimba, vibraphone, and xylophone – like’ sound. Then an awesome acoustic makes entry, but only for a brief time. Back to the full blown ‘Zappa attack’, until they even throw in a little ‘Chicago – like’ horn section. All of sudden the action comes to a halt and the bass takes over with cello, cymbals, lead guitar and drums. Cool contemplative music which almost lulls you into a dream state. All manner of sounds including what sounds like grinding glass, before a beautiful violin dispels the chaos.
Under Wuhu Son – This is the big epic on the album at 20:14. The second best song on the album for me.
I. In the Bright Light – A three stage epic opening with cool strings and lead guitar. Violin and cello are added to flavor the essence as the melody builds. Another comfortable almost Sunday afternoon melody, until the glockenspiel sounds enter again, this time with a more menacing tone. The acoustic enters with the best vocals on the album. A sad epic storyline develops here. “On a bridge, by the riverside.” “She will hope that a stranger finds bundled tight late last night.” Acoustic guitar, strings and bells creating an incredible sound alongside the cello, soft drums, and violin. A sad story about discarded children. “On a boat down a river strong.” “Where you live, where you breed.” “And the oats that you seed can just be left for dead.”
II. Left for Dead – A very ominous guitar and drum rumble with trumpets and viola mixed with violin and cello. Definitely Zappa inspired. Lots of drama and those sounds and instruments which enter the tiny crevices of your mind and ears where most other bands dare not tread. Flute, hand percussion, and glockenspiel gliding perfectly between bass, soft drums and all manner of horns. Closed with thunder and rain.
III. Brace Against the Fall – Flugelhorn, glockenspiel, trumpets, and drums building a rhythm and melody to finish off the storyline of this song. “Look inside an empty nest.” “Soft teddy bears in painted chest.” “Swim against a river flowing so strong.” The impossible odds that confront the protagonist are highlighted with trumpets, roaring guitar and glockenspiel. A river of endless tragedy.
From the Fence – Anthem like lead guitar heralds the opening of this one. Then cool acoustic bass. “Today I woke with flowers and song.” “With praise for people and blinders on.” Nice female vocals supporting. Sitting comfortably on the fence of decision making, while pondering the universe.
Belgian Boogie Board – Wow, when you read the credits you find out how amazingly complicated this song truly is. “It is a barebones composition written for two clarinets and two electric basses.” But they have added a ‘few’ instruments into the mix. This is Zappa unleashed. All the funky mass instrument experimentation with sounds that flavor his best works brought to bear in one dynamic 10:31 explosion of sound. Pianos, violins, clarinets, and as the credits say, “a 28 page score written for at least twenty – seven different instruments.” They add, “the recording of this piece has given Bill a headache at least twice…per hour.” Luckily we just get to sit back and enjoy every instrument in all its glory. Banjos, drums, violins, glockenspiel, cellos, bass, all sorts of strings and brass. It is an amalgamation of instruments, each taking their turn to provide highlights. One of the better songs on the album.
Rating: 8/10 – This is an interesting album full of adaptations of some of what Frank Zappa brings to the table of prog and music. They know, like Zappa, how to find those nooks and crannies of the mind and ear that rarely get stimulation from pop, rock, and most of the prog genre. The album provides these sounds in wonderful almost three dimensional effect. The sound is so clean and well recorded.
This is much more accessible to me than much of Frank Zappa’s works. Though I must admit I have not listened to many of his albums. Not a big fan. But this is interesting and I consider it much different. Flighty and challenging with its sounds, but grounded in a storyline with well written lyrics and vocals.
If you’re a fan of Zappa’s music you will probably love this. But even if you’re not, give this a try, to hear their interpretation of his effects. Very interesting and different.
Reviewed by Prof on July 2nd, 2010
Fortunate Observer of Time
Sea Of Tranquility
Review by Pete Pardo June 7, 2005
Long Island's Frogg Cafe have come a long way since their days as a Frank Zappa tribute band. Their self-titled debut released back in 2001 was a very strong fusion-meets-Zappa-meets-Dregs-meets-Mahavishnu-meets-Gentle Giant platter. On 2003's Creature, the band proved they could go the symphonic prog route, as well as mix in some neat avant-garde sounds. Now with their latest, Fortunate Observer of Time, the Froggster's have created a hefty brew of prog rock, jazz, and pop, mostly written by keyboard player/trumpeter/lead vocalist Nick Lieto. Lieto's lyrics tell many tales of people going through life just passing time, as if in a world of their own, and the music is as adventurous as it is soaring and melodic.
"Eternal Optimist" kicks things off in grand fashion, with Lieto's catchy vocal melodies drifting through the mix with pop grace as the meaty guitar licks of new axe man Steve Uh rip with plenty of fire. As always, the floating violin lines of Bill Ayasse are just wonderful here, as well as on the instrumental title track. His majestic lines permeate the jazz-prog of "Reluctant Observer", a great piece that also sees loads of intricate piano/guitar/violin tradeoffs while the sinewy bass lines of Andy Sussman and the intricate drum work of James Guarnieri provide plenty of fusiony groove. Lieto shows on this one how much he has grown as a lead vocalist, as his voice is dripping with melody and pop sensibilities, with Ayasse's violin work giving the track just the slightest touch of vintage Kansas. Add in a tasty guitar solo from Uh and you have a truly wonderful piece!
Kansas again comes to mind on the compelling "No Regrets", a true slice of classy American prog, with graceful violin and intricate synths. Lieto adds in a searing jazz flugelhorn solo on this one. After the brief and pastoral "Resign", the band launches into the Gentle Giant-meets-Echolyn of "You're Still Sleeping", complete with some neat vocal harmonies and plenty of violin & guitar passages, including a fierce violin/keys/guitar section that will instantly remind you of vintage Return to Forever, before a mellow horn solo breaks up the mania.
The highlight though (and there are many) is the near 15-minute funk/prog/jazz of "Abyss of Dissension", this one written by bassist Andy Sussman, and also a tune that features former Frank Zappa vibes/marimba player Ed Mann. Dreamy wah-wah guitars from Uh meets a thick horn section and vibes, giving parts of this piece an instant Zappa feel circa Zoot Allures, but then a multi-part vocal fugue brings to mind classic Gentle Giant. "Down the abyss, I'm breaking down, breaking down, Fight the dark and curse the rain, Breaking down, breaking down, Underground, you're shut down!" Cool stuff! Guitarist Uh unleashes a fiery yet tasty solo on this tune that will make fans of Larry Carlton happy. The ending instrumental is a moody and atmospheric piece with flutes (courtesy of Bill's sister Sharon), Sussman's cello, and violin. It ends this wonderful CD on a rather somber and avant-garde tone, which is a nice contrast to the mostly symphonic and jazzy material that comes before it.
Fortunate Observer of Time is a real winner from this New York band. Not everyone can create progressive rock that is melodic, tasty, with memorable hooks, in addition to being complex and adventurous with plenty of groove. Frogg Cafe has done that here, so check this one out, and catch the band live as well if you have the opportunity.
Sea Of Tranquility
Review by Pete Pardo July 31, 2003
The second release from New York’s Frogg Café, Creatures, is a major step forward for the band, and a big move into classy progressive rock territory. While hints of the more fusion based sound that flowed throughout the bands debut album still pop up, this new recording is a complex and symphonic affair, filled with tons of offbeat melodies and instrumental brilliance. Members Nick Lieto (vocals, keyboards, trumpet), Frank Camiola (guitars), Bill Ayasse (violin, mandolin), Andrew Sussman (bass) and James Guarnieri (drums) show once again that prog rock can be challenging and fun at the same time.
"All This Time" kicks off the CD in grand fashion. Waves of Mellotron and heavy guitar riffs support the melodic vocals of Lieto on this one, which ultimately turns into a harder rocking piece than the band has ever done before. The gorgeous title track combines the deft beauty of vintage Kansas with the wacky complex time signatures of Frank Zappa. Weaving guitar and piano lines from Camiola and Lieto are littered all over this intricate piece, which also features some haunting violin work from Ayasse. The vocals of Lieto are once again very strong on this track, richly melodic during the atmospheric sections, and forceful when complementing the intense instrumental outbursts. It’s great when a band uses vocals not just for the sake of using vocals, but utlilizes them effectively as the would another instrument. "The Celestial Metal Can" is the closest Frogg Café comes to RIO, as the band brought in a few guests for a avant-garde "chamber rock" experience along the lines of Henry Cow, Univers Zero, or Thinking Plague. Acoustic guitars, clarinet, flute, sarod, various percussion, and Toro electric weedwacker (yes, you read that right!) are all used resulting in an ethnic sounding yet jazzy cacophony of noises. This track segues into the violin tour-de-force of "Gagutz", where Ayasse gets to show off his prowess on the electric violin. Ayasse’s lethal flights recall Goodman, Ponty, and Steinhardt , and he really cuts loose here on this funk-rock instrumental piece, as does guitarist Camiola with some distorted rock solos. Check out the band completely change gears after Camiola’s hard-edged solo as Lieto interjects a jazzy trumpet solo over a more relaxed groove. Just brilliant!
The epic, 21-minute “Waterfall Carnival” finishes of the disc on a real high note. Throwing many styles at the listener, the band here has created a prog-rock masterpiece. Starting off with lush acoustic guitar and Mellotron that recalls vintage Genesis, the band then mixes symphonic rock and jazz-fusion for a huge wall of sound. The rhythm team of Sussman and Guarnieri are consistently locked in here, providing the support for intricate keyboard and violin lines from Lieto and Ayasse. Fans of Kansas or the Dixie Dregs will love how Frogg Café shifts into symphonic fusion on this one, resulting in a long track that lives up to its epic scope. Oh yeah, there’s a cool Hammond solo from Lieto here as well, which just screams vintage 70’s guys like Auger or Winwood.
This is a fabulous CD, and one that should propel this five-piece from Long Island to greater heights in the world of progressive rock. Anyone in the New York Metropolitan area who has a chance to see the band live really should, as they are as tight an ensemble as you will ever see.
July 31, 2003
We often get cds submitted for review here at PE and this one came across my desk recently. Overall I found it enjoyable, though some tracks resonated with me more than others. While listening to Creatures it is clear the band draws influences from many directions.
The albums opener "All This Time" is a rocky pop/prog tune with a dreamy quality. It is reminicent of Pink Floyd at times, Zappa others, Kerry Livgren's solo work, I hear all these and more. This is a cool tune, melodic stuff that never beats the listener over the head even when it gets tricky. In fact this whole cd is like that.
Someone recently said this cd is diverse and I have to agree with that. Each tune seems to mine a different musical vein. The second cut, the title track, goes places the first cut didn't even hint at. No metal here, no this is more like "Inca Roads" meets the Weather Channel at Steely Dan's BBQ. This one goes down real easy. Enjoyable stuff, light and breezy.
"The Celestial Metal Can" on the other hand is something different and I am grateful for that. This shows another side of the band, here they compose a piece in memory of Charles Ives. This is the most daring piece yet and the least derivative so far on the cd. I could easily enjoy a whole cd of the group doing music in this vein. It seems to me, and this is just where my tastes lie presently, that this is more exciting than music that recalls 70's symph.
"Gagutz" is another piece here that I enjoyed, probably my second favorite. At times reminicent of Crimson, but a bit more grooving, funkier. There are some cool electronic touches here and there. Frankie Camiola turns in some 'out' guitar work here. Just the right amount of musical "garlic" as Zappa would say. And just as it seems you heard it all... the violin enters. There is some real tasty playing here that recalls prime Jean-Luc Ponty. Fans of fusiony violin take note, Bill Ayasse is a name you need to know!
The last cut is the 20 minute epic "Waterfall Carnival". This is an uplifting work that starts out quite pastoral. Camiola's acoustic work here is really nice, classy stuff. The addition of flute reminds me of some of the acoustic/flute bits Genesis did back in the day. When the tempo picks up around the 6:35 mark that feeling continues. Sort of "Cinema Show"-like, but not as over the top. There is an ornate bit that comes in around the eight minute mark that sounds a bit like the Dixie Dregs with a dash of DiMeola tossed in, Kansas and Tull too. Nick Leito's turns in some classic keyboard work here and his vocals are pleasant as well. Camiola's solo around the 18:00 mark is really tasty. This section reminds me of And Then There Were Three era Genesis. Overall "Waterfall Carnival" is a pleasant journey, recommended for fans of 70s symph.
Creatures is a cd that covers a lot of the bases. Now you can call that not thematic or uniform, and some might, but I think it is a wise move actually. How often do you find a cd that has something for both symph lovers and avant music fans too? Seldom. Seems Frogg Cafe knows there are different facets to the prog audience nowadays. Offering something for everyone is a cool move. I find this cd to be on the whole enjoyable. At the same time I am aware of the collective talent this group has and think that their next album may be the one that really defines this bands own sound. Creatures is a nice stop along the way on that evolution and an ambitious one to boot.
August 10, 2003
"Creatures" is a very interesting and eclectic progressive rock album that should interest almost every fan of this style of music.
The first song "All This Time" is very much in the traditional 70's style. Powerful guitar, heavy drums and mellotron in the background. Nick Lieto's voice is in the Wetton/Stolt area and he sings quite well. Great opener!! The second track "Creatures" reminds me more of Frank Zappa. I guess this represents somewhat of an hommage from this ex cover band. Third song "The Celestial Metal Can" is very experimental and I must admit, not my cup of tea. I don't feel qualified to evaluate it. Next track "Gagutz" is a very good fusion piece. Finally "Waterfall Carinval", clocking at more then 20 minutes, is an incredible epic prog masterpiece in the vein of early nineties Echolyn (and perhaps also Kansas). Just for this one you should buy this cd, and since there is much more good stuff to listen to...
Review by Mariano Bugarín
August, 2003 - Argentina
There is one thing I've observed among many progressive rock fans: they have a hard time crossing the border that separates prog from jazz. Many say they just don't understand jazz, or find it to be either boring or some sort of an endless, meaningless doodling. I've also seen many jazz lovers sneer upon prog fans as some sort of frustrated intellectual wannabes who listen to pretentious, rigid music full of, you guessed it, meaningless noodling. Snobs are everywhere, no matter what music they listen to.
However, part of this misunderstanding between both camps is a result, in my opinion, of the lack of consistent efforts to come up with a serious synthesis of what defines both prog and jazz. If experimentation and esthetic restlessness are features of both fields, why is that so hard to accomplish?
From the 90s on, there are three bands that can claim to be successfully reaching that point: Italy's Deus Ex Machina, Sweden's The Flower Kings and the American combo Frogg Café. The two first, at different rates, have turned from straight symphonic/progressive to some sort of a jazz-prog fusion. It is this what sets Frogg Café apart: right from the beginning they've achieved a credible combination of elements from jazz and prog (among others) in their music. It¹s very difficult, though, to analyze the works of a band that many refer to as Zappa-influenced, not having listened to much of Frank's apparently endless opus. However, this might give us a chance to give a fresh (and unprejudiced, so to speak) look into the world of Frogg Café.
There are many reasons to hate mp3 downloading and CD-cloning, but there’s one in particular I’ve always felt to be very relevant: no artwork. Why bother about artwork? We just want the music, some seem to say. Well, no way! I’ve always found artwork to be some sort of guide as to how to read an album: it helps setting a mood, an ambience for the music to grow into. On the first Frogg Café album, the cover art set some sort of humorous atmosphere that seemed to laugh at Roger Dean, with those stone columns resembling those of Fragile or Yessongs, but with these funny froggies playing on top of them. The use of colour was also coherent: the strong yellow, green and purple tones add to an optimistic mood, and the music fits well. On Creatures, the artwork is definitely somber. Brown and dark tones help put the music on a whole different plain. The humorous aspect seems to continue in the Dali-like figure, though.
While listening to their CDs, one can't help but wonder what this band might sound like in a live environment, that is, how do they (re) work this material live. For now, we only have the albums to judge. And what a journey it is!
Some album highlights:
All This Time starts with some weird noises and vocal effects. The rhythm set by the drums and guitar, against the Mellotron's dark strings on the background, give this track a certain Crimsonish-bolero atmosphere. This march-like pattern adds a dramatic feel to the track, alternating with jazzy (or, more precisely, fusion-y) breaks, which work very well against the former sections.
Some of the vocals on this one remind me of Under The Sun's Chris Shryack, and that’s not bad at all! The lead vocals are very expressive, and the harmonies and backing vocals are great, as we¹ve already seen on the debut CD. There are nice touches with harpsichord (highlighted with panning), as well as great unisons, which include marimbas. Nice!
Creatures features Gentle Giant-like complexities that alternate with soft vox-piano sections, accompanied with bass melodies. A cool marimba-violin unison is one of the instrumental highlights of the track. Again, the Mellotron adds depth and dramatism through a strings patch.
The third track, The Celestial Metal Can (In Memory Of Charles Ives) is by far the weirdest track on the CD. I would call it a highly successful spatialization experiment. It is here that the band plays without any restraint with stereo effects, reverbs, depth, and not only do they experiment with sound treatments, they also use different sound sources such as an electric weedwacker and something that sounds like electronic sequences or delayed electronic sounds. Multiple voice layers, different kinds of percussions, banjo, violin, trumpet, and cello add to the overall effect. This one is a delightful challenge for open-minded listeners (headphones are highly recommended on this one!).
Gagutz features a nice intro with wind instruments. A filtered Clavinet-like patch and wah-guitar add a little funk to this tune later on. The violin on this one could only be described an angular, some sort of Frippish playing that sounds astounding and somewhat unexpected on that instrument. This track has a definite symphonic feel, which is augmented by the use of synths. The violin solo is another album highlight, as are the multilayered sections afterwards. The guitar solo on this one is electrifying, as is the trumpet spot that shines upon a symphonic background (nice combination!).
Waterfall Carnival¹ is the last track. On this one, an acoustic guitar opening is accompanied by impeccable lead vocals (but hey, that¹s usual by now!). The flute joins later for some subtle strokes, while mandolin and handbells add richness to this piece. Here we have some really nice, quiet, introspective passages, alternating with busier parts. The Hammond solo on this one is just great! It is a highly varied track, and it showcases what Frogg Café¹s music is all about.
In conclusion, this CD sounds a bit darker and even more experimental than their debut 'Frogg Café', though it retains its melodic appeal and accessibility while still defying the ear through sonic experimentation and very interesting, carefully crafted arrangements. One special note goes to the good audio quality, for an independent self-produced release. It really serves to enjoy the richness of this CD. The playing is great, and the band is really tight, especially during some difficult unisons. Another positive note comes from the instrumental variety on this album, which stimulates the listener, trying to recognize them as they jump to the spotlight. But what I like best about Creatures is that the amazing skills of the band members are put second in line against the songs themselves: they’re not show-offy, but they speed up when necessary, and slow down if the song requires them to do so. They can play very difficult parts just like this, but if they have to play quiet, simple acoustic passages, they¹ll do that with high proficiency. This CD is a must!
Review by Guilherme Vignini August 2003 (Translated from the original Portuguese - special thanks to Mariano Bugarín)
It's great when you hear people talk about an unknown band, you check it out and find out the band is spectacular. That's what happened to me with Frogg Café. I had been hearing excellent comments about these guys in the prog community, and it all came to one point when I was tempted to look closely, and they surprised me.
This group from NYC started as a Frank Zappa cover band. This alone tells you the musicians have to be versatile, to say the least. The Zappa influence is obvious, but elements from the Dixie Dregs, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Gentle Giant can also be recognised.
They play highly complex music, but they don't exaggerate it. 'All This Time' is a great 'entry point', with a great melody. Vocalist/keyboardist Nick Lieto sings really well and Frankie Camiola's guitar is great. 'Creatures' is Zappa Giant, a fantastic tune, and it reminds me a lot of some things by Steve Vai (Fexable-era) and Mike Keneally. Certainly a new classic.
The Celestial Metal Can' is a cavernous instrumental, full of effects, dedicated to Charles Ives, a great American classical composer. Very experimental, with jazz touches, for those who enjoy the exquisite (like myself), this is a full dish. 'Gagutz' is a bit more 'normal', although it reminds of some things by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a great little thing with jazzy touches, and Bill Ayasse's killer violin, 'à la' Jean-Luc Ponty.
Closing the CD, the 21-minute opus 'Waterfall Carnival' is very beautiful. Once again, the players show their unparalleled skills, with impressive passages and astonishing tastefulness.
Frogg Café, along with IZZ, are one of the great revelations of American Prog, and the previous words tell you why. 'Creatures' is a CD that's worth every cent if you like progressive rock.
Review by Aaron Jazy August 2003
In 2001, Frogg Café, an obscure New York prog band with a serious Zappa fixation released their first, eponymous album. Nearly no one noticed. While the album certainly showed that the band had chops, the production quality was not nearly so good and the songwriting was more in the nature of a tribute to heroes than the reason for the recording. The album seemed to be one for the MCI plan: friends and family.
Enter the Internet. See, a funny thing happened next. Through connections made on various Internet prog lists by band members and those on their respective MCI plans, the band won a gig at Jim Robinson's Metlar-Bodine proghouse in New Jersey. The good news: they filled the place. The bad news: "filled," Metlar-Bodine seats 50…soaking wet. The other good news: someone taped the gig.
Enter the Internet again. See, another funny thing happened. CDR burns of the tape began making the rounds of some of those same Internet lists. And it was a very good tape indeed. Clearly the band had progressed since their time in the studio. Now they were more than promising chopmeisters who had gone to school on Zappa and the deities of American fusion jazz. Now they had chemistry to add to the musicianship of the performance. Suddenly the band had a buzz about them. So it was with the sound of bees in their ears that Frogg Café headed back into the studio.
What they emerged with is a remarkable album. Nothing in Frogg Café's past - not the Metlar-Bodine tape and certainly not the debut album - suggested that they were capable of producing an album of the astonishing quality of Creatures. The album opens with "All This Time," a driving, powerful number that owes far more to Red-era King Crimson than Zappa. Where Frank Camiola's guitars had provided background colorations on the first album, they are the main player here. And it is not just the influence of Fripp and the sainted Frank that is evident in Camiola's playing; on the lead there is also more than a mere nod in the direction of Roine Stolt.
Similarly, Nick Lieto's vocals have come to the foreground on this album. Where Lieto's vocal contribution to the first album seemed to be more the fact of vocals then the vocals themselves, nothing could be further from the truth here. On the title track, for example, Lieto shines. His tone and phrasing in the difficult jazzy, syncopated passages that define the song are perfect. It is difficult to imagine them done better, or even as well. While the song is far closer to the Zappa-influenced style of the first album, there is as much Canterbury as Mothers in evidence. And as the album unfolds, so does the evidence of the band's influences: Gong, RIO, Village Vanguard-era Coltrane, Dixie Dregs and even Kansas.
But it is for the twenty-one minute epic, "Waterfall Caravan" that this album will be remembered. For all of the lengthy prog epics that have flowed from the pens of Neal Morse and Roine Stolt of late, this one clearly harkens back to Genesis. And yet in "Waterfall Caravan," the Froggies seem to be referring less to "Supper's Ready" and the Gabriel-era then the Genesis of Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering. With Camiola's acoustic guitar work, Lieto's melotron swells and vintage analog keyboard sounds, Guarnieri’s timely crash cymbal - not to mention the linear structure and the heartbreakingly beautiful melody -- it is as if the Hackett-Banks-Rutherford-Collins lineup had recorded the side-long epic they never actually recorded.
And yet, as tempting as it is to view "Waterfall Caravan" and the entire Creatures album in terms of the various influences to which the band provides citing references, the more remarkable aspect of the album is the degree to which all of it is delivered from a uniquely Frogg Café point of view. Whether the references are to Red-era Crimson, Zappa, Flower Kings or Wind & Wuthering Genesis, what it all really sounds like is Frogg Café.
And that sounds good. Really good. If Frogg Café continues to improve from Creatures as dramatically as they improved to get to Creatures future acts may be citing to them. Perhaps they should already.
9 out of 10 stars (and it is only the uneven recording quality on the album that denies them the last star).
Review by Rod Chappell September, 2003
The post 70’s world of Progressive music has seen a number of bands trying to recapture the magic present in the early recordings of the groups some now refer to as ‘the big 5’. Once in a while a recording passes my desk that contains moments of the above-mentioned ‘magic’, but now I can honestly say I've at last heard a CD that has it all. Frogg Cafe’s second CD entitled CREATURES is a blend of all of the elements that made prog music great in the days when Yes’ “Close to Edge”, Genesis’ “Selling England”, Gentle Giant’s “Free Hand” and Zappa‘s “Overnight Sensation” to name a few were brand new. However, Frogg are not a cheap rip off, they are A VERY original band creating something all their own.
The CD opens with ALL THIS TIME. This is one of their heavier songs. The drums and bass start things off with a nice groove in 6 followed by an anthem-like theme that you'll be singing for a while after the song is finished. The guitar adds greatly to the power already established by the rhythm section. As with all of their songs, the lyrics are deep and meaningful. A great way to open up things. It is immediately evident that all of the players are of a high caliber. Literally no weaknesses.
This is followed by the song CREATURES. Their Zappa/jazz influence is evident in the opening of the tune. Just the right mix of both here. The bass and drums groove on a nice 7. The guitar hits a great chord that takes the song in a unique direction. There are just enough time and tempo changes to keep things interesting for the full duration (7:41) The emphasis throughout the entire recording is on composition. This is something I have found missing in a lot of the post 70’s prog music. This and all other songs are VERY well written pieces.
The next song THE CELESTIAL METAL CAN is not really a song, more of a “sound experiment”. This piece would not be out of place on a VERY early Pink Floyd album or perhaps “Trout Mask Replica” era Captain Beefheart. An interesting journey that sets the stage for an instrumental tune called Gagutz. This is another nearly 8 minute song and, as with the others, keeps you interested for the entire piece. Two things that take it over the top are an amazing violin solo by Bill Ayasse followed by an equally amazing guitar solo by Frankie Camiola. Things get suddenly a tad jazzier as Nick Lieto belts out a killer trumpet solo. The song then morphs into a nice little feel that reminds me of an early Gentle Giant-like groove. But hang on, the best is yet to come!
The final piece is bound to become a modern progressive rock classic. It’s been a great while since a post 70’s song has passed through my headphones, leaving me speechless. WATERFALL CARNIVAL did just that. This song clocks in at 21:15 and every moment of it is pure magic. If you are into Supper’s Ready or CTTE, this song alone makes buying CREATURES a MUST. In my opinion, this is the finest song I’ve heard in a LONG, LONG time. I found myself hitting the replay button after it ended.
All Frogg Café need is one high profile gig…say NEARFEST 2004 as an example to lift them to the top of the heap. If this recording is any indication of where the band is headed, I can't wait to hear what they come up with next. I HIGHLY recommend CREATURES to anyone longing for the kind of music produced in Prog’s heyday.
Progressive Rock & Progressive Metal E-Zine
The Band and Record of the Month - October 2003
Frogg Café is a contemporary art rock ensemble working out of the New York metropolitan area. The members of this unique group are Nick Lieto (vocals, keyboards, trumpet), Frank Camiola (guitars), Bill Ayasse, Andrew Sussman (bass), and James Guarnieri (drums). All of the members of Frogg Café are university trained in music and this professionalism is quite evident in both the mature compositions and discerning musicality. Frogg Café has been receiving rave reviews from fans and industry alike with their incredibly diverse and eclectic sound that is unmistakably their own.
Frogg Café started out life in 1998 as a Frank Zappa cover band called Lumpy Gravy performing Zappa's difficult music on Long Island and New York City. In 2000, the band was in transition and found a new beginning with the addition of percussionist James Guarnieri to the band. At this point, the band changed its name to Frogg Café and started to perform original music with a host of discernable influences in their sound such as Zappa, Yes, Gentle Giant, Ian Anderson, Genesis, and even the more avant garde styles of composers such as Stravinsky, Ravel, Mingus, Coltrane, Ives, and Copland, just to name a few.
Within their music, Frogg Café deftly blends elements from many sources such as progressive rock, jazz, and even modern chamber music into a cohesive whole. They pull off dazzling intricate written passages one minute, and then take off into spacey improvs the next with a seamless integration. Frogg Café follows their artistic impulses whilst maintaining an incredible amount of musical integrity. With a beautiful blending of vocal harmonies, colorful textures, unparalleled lyricism and melodicism, uncharted and challenging improvisation with both heavy and whimsical musical styles and grooves, the music of Frogg Café is beyond description of words - it must be experienced first hand.
Enjoying the success of the both their self-titled debut "Frogg Café" and the newly released "Creatures", Frogg Café is on a path of a very promising musical journey. Frogg Café has performed with major progressive rock bands such as The Flower Kings and The Magic Elf, and has received major accolades from such distinguished progressive rock websites and magazines such as The Giant Progweed, The Axiom of Choice, Progression Magazine, Io Pages and even legendary figures of progressive music such as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
Review by Douwe Fledderus March 2004
“Wake up prog-labels: Frogg Café plays original and progressive music!”
Creatures is the second album of the American band Frogg Café. In the year 2001 they released their selftitled debut album. For me this album is my introduction to this band. The band surprised me with Creatures, an album with highly original and progressive music. I count them as one of my musical discoveries of last year. So the purpose of this review is to inform you about them and bring this band to a bigger audience. I think they deserve this and again I’m wondering why this band is not discovered by one of the proglabels.
This year the band will release their third album. But progVisions will first give “Creatures” the attention it deserves. If you have noticed all the different instruments which are used for this album, you can imagine the band has a very big musical pallet. The music is classical, jazzy and symphonic at the same time. To give you some references I will sum up the bands I was thinking of while listening to this wonderful album. These are all bands who where/are very important for the development of progressive rock music … Isildurs Bane, Gentle Giant, Happy the Man, National Health, Genesis, UK, Frank Zappa … but also Italian progbands and modern classical composers.
“All this time” (8:02) is (together with “Waterfall carnival”) one of the most symphonic pieces with dark and mysterious symphonic keyboards, a humming bass and melodic guitars and vocals. The titletrack “Creatures” (7:41) has more a jazz-rock atmosphere and reminds me of bands like National Health, Happy the Man and Gentle Giant (the marimba). The vocals are sung in way like Adrian Belew does. The third track “The celestial metal can” (8:19) is experimental and influenced by modern classics. It is a homage to composer Charles Ives. There is a lot of percussion and a freaky clarinet in the first part. The closing classical part melts seamless into “Gagutz” (7:55) which has some Isildurs Bane influences. After the Isildurs Bane part an electric violin solo follows. The kind Eddie Jobson used to play when he was in the band UK. Next are a guitar solo and a jazzy trumpet solo before the classical and Isildurs Bane influences are returning. What a variation in a single adventurous track. The last track is the longest of the album and is called “Waterfall carnival” (21:15). The first part sounds like delicate Italian prog to me because of the violin, mandolin, acoustic guitars and Mellotron. It even reminds me sometimes of the old Genesis and the Japanese band Outer Limits. But the violin of Bill Ayasse also reminds me sometimes of Jean Luc Ponty. And we are only halfway with “Waterfall carnival”. Next is a part with delicate and melodic flute parts and Hammond organ. You think that you are listening to an Italian prog band. What a diversity again in this composition. It’s an enthralling musical trip.
Frogg Café made with “Creatures” an album for the adventurous progfan. The album fascinates till the last second. Innovative and contemporary progmusic with some influences from the seventies. Personally I will treasure this album. I’m very curious how this talented band will develop and can’t wait to hear their new album.
Review by Eric Porter April, 2004
Creatures is the sophomore effort of Long Island based Frogg Café. Having evolved from a Zappa cover band, Frogg Café uses plenty of influences to create 5 unique tracks. The music is complex, with intricate solo sections where jazz-fusion elements are often heard. Any band that combines the guitar with violin is ok in my book, and this will draw comparisons to The Dregs and Mahavishnu, among others. The symphonic sections often cross over, as the band is coming out of this jazzy grooving section they smack you in the face with a mellotron.
The music takes a turn on track 3 “The Celestial Metal Can” moving into the experimental realm, combining sound effects and atmospheres with various instrumentation. This could be the first appearance of the Toro electric weedwacker on record (although I doubt it), but it is a first for me. I wonder if they could get Toro to sponsor their next tour? “Gagutz” really stands out as the strongest track, with its use of woodwinds in the introduction adding a classical influence. The song quickly finds a strong groove and allows guitars, keyboards, and violin to step out and solo. The standout is the trumpet solo, which just took me by surprise but added a great element that is rarely heard in progressive music. Vocalist Nick Lieto is responsible for the trumpet section, as well as being the band's keyboardist. The track at times reminds me of what Gentle Giant might have done had they been more jazz influenced.
The final track is the 21 minute "Waterfall Carnival." The introduction is as mellow as the band gets on the record. Acoustic guitar and flute show a more pastoral side to their music. Keeping things subtle, slowly adding flute, drums and keyboards creating an early Genesis feel. The track carries itself well throughout, and fans of the symphonic epics should be pleased with this one as it builds to its conclusion. From start to finish, Frogg Café shows its diverse influences and brings them together with solid songs, melodies, and excellent musicianship.
Review by Thomas Kohlruß October 2004 (Translated from the original German by Stefan Lange of Trigon)
At 21.07.2004 I had the opportunity to see Frogg Café live in Würzburg in one of these brilliant Freakshow-concerts of Charlie Heidenreich. At the concert I acquired (well, the CD was given as a cost-free supplement in the purchase of both studio albums) a CD (or a CDR? I am not realy sure...) named "Noodles", containing recordings that were originated during a four hour (!!) jam at 26.06.2002.
Apparently a large part of recorded material was lost unfortunately sovwe only can enjoy the rescued "leftovers" on this CD. By the way it seems that guitarist Frank Camiola has left the band meanwhile, on the purported concert in Würzburg a certain Stephen Uh played the guitar, but not less virtuos...
Frogg Café play here through 5 (well yes, actually 4) rather loose, relaxed jams, that have their focal point clearly on the jazz, jazz-rock side of the band. The retro-prog-elements of the regular studio albums are hardly represented here, instead there are rather skew and oblique key-sounds, crazy trumpets solos and a lot of violine that is sometimes hardly to distinguish from the keys. As a coarse comparison for the "mood" on this album there isthe Track "Candy Korn" (minus vocals of course) of the debut album. Apart from that the music sounds often like an intersection out of Traffic and the Dixie Dregs...
The Jams have to be sure no real structure or melody, but offer nevertheless some halt for the ears and there are a few things to discover so the music does not become boring. The opener "Eliche" for example drips relaxed-sluggishly out of the boxes until after about 18 minutes the guitar pulls suddenly an bestial groove and transfers that song in more rock regions. "Fusilli" on the other hand is dominated by gloomy keyboard sounds and a deeply grumbling bass. "Orecchiette" is a free formed keys embedding ... and so on. All kinds of surprises make sure there is entertainment again and again.
A relaxed, but yet exciting instrumental album which clearly underlines the musicality of this band. As a little joke occasionally spoken and/or shouted parts of "Dr. Mac" and "Brother Bam" are interspersed.
"There is nothing better than a one chord mindless jam...Eat!" There is nothing to add . By the way the titles of the single jams are surely kinds of noodles. And unfortunately I do not know whether the album is available on other ways except when it is sold on concerts of the band. And why I am able to write a review so quickly? Because the album belays my player since acquisition and doesn't want to come out any more ...
Review by Aaron Jazy November 2004
If you are familiar with Frogg Cafe’s two studio albums you know the band has always sported an inventive, improvisational spirit. On Noodles this spirit takes center stage. Recorded live in the studio on June 26, 2002, all of the material on the album was performed in one take over the period of four hours (with humorous voice over’s by Dr. Mac and Brother Bam).
Noodles, founding guitarist Frank Camiola’s Frogg Café swansong, is a fascinating look at a band’s creative process and demonstrates its many influences – jam, jazz and avante-garde classical and good old fashioned prog. Perhaps the album’s highlight is “Tagliarini” a 14 minute jam built on a fascinating rhythmic figure full of possibilities – somewhat reminiscent of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Bill Ayasse first offers a colorful violin lead before handing the figure’s reins to Nick Lieto and his trumpet. From there the piece builds in intensity in a very Crimsoid manner.
While offerings of a band’s studio improvisations or demos often disappoint and sometimes seem gratuitously commercial (are you listening Neal Morse?) Noodles is a rare example that satisfies.
Frogg Cafe (2001)
Sea Of Tranquility
Review by Pete Pardo January 26, 2003
Wow, just where has this band been hiding? Sounding like a hybrid of Gentle Giant, Dixie Dregs, Frank Zappa, Hands, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this New York based band has put together a very impressive debut here, filled with stunning, complex instrumental arrangements, intelligent melodies, and a firm foot in progressive rock and jazz tradition.
Kicking off with "Deltitnu", the band goes for your jugular with a complex violin led ditty that is like the perfect marriage of the Dixie Dregs and Gentle Giant. Bill Ayasse is a monster on the violin, as his weaving, melodic lines permeate most of the CD's songs in fine fashion. The two-part "Candy Korn" mixes some jazzy, trumpet led dark instrumental passages with vocal sections that brought to mind vintage Kansas, while "Old Souls" is a more rockin' tune with complex guitar and violin over strong vocals that ask the questions of the afterlife. Piano, guitar, and violin do battle on the wonderful "While You Were Sleeping", a somber instrumental that soars with majestic melodies and clever instrumental breaks. I was again reminded of Hands or Gentle Giant on the song "Old Man", from the multiple vocal harmonies to the acoustic meets electric instrumentation, it just screams classic 70's prog. The band goes for insane complex workouts on "Space Dust", a tune that guitarist Frank Camiola and violinist Bill Ayasse really shine, while the band again hits a slight Kansas tone on "Questions Without Answers", complete with a little nod to Zappa's "Inca Roads" thrown in for good measure.
This is just simply a fine performance from a band that would really strike a positive nerve with progressive rock and fusion lovers given some exposure. All the players are outstanding, as I should mention also James Guarnieri on drums, Nick Lieto on trumpet and keys, and Andy Sussman on bass and guitars. This five piece delivers the goods in a big way, and a new CD is in the works for 2003. I'll be looking forward to it.
The Giant Progweed
Review by Mike Prete October 2001
Long Island quintet Frogg Cafe's debut is a strong slice of uniquely American progressive rock. The band's main acknowledged influence is Zappa, originally having been a Zappa cover band, and even quote the main theme to "Inca Roads" in "Questions Without Answers". At other times, the strong lead violin sound is reminiscent of the band Hands. Atop this is a strong jazz-based undercurrent. The band alternates from light and airy piano or violin parts to darker and more intense guitar dominated passages, creating a nice dynamic contrast. The unique addition of trumpet adds interesting tonal colors not usually associated with symphonic prog.
At times the music can be a rocking, fast paced fusion like in "Old Man", or at others a more mellow and traditional jazz sound like "While You Were Sleeping". Most songs tend to combine both aspects to create a successful end product. The vocals aren't exactly a strong point, but are not distracting in any way. Occasional harmony vocals are used to good effect. The majority of the songs are instrumental and emphasize the player's strengths. Fans of symphonic fusion looking for something a little different will most likely enjoy this one.
Review by Richard Hughes
Who says progressive rock is dead? Certainly not the members of Frogg Cafe. Their new self-titled CD is jam-packed with numbers full of a kind instrumental ingenuity that you rarely see anymore.
The overall sound of the band evokes the memories of a number of gone-but-not-forgotton bands of the 70s, from such jazz-influenced groups as John McLaughlin¹s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chic Corea¹s Return to Forever, and Gentle Giant, to classical-influenced songs like Yes and Kansas. There is also a clear Frank Zappa influence - not surprising, since Frogg Cafe began their life as a Zappa cover band.
You might think the sound of such a band would be dated, but it¹s not. Something about the energy of the music, and the musical talent of the band members, makes the music fresh and current. Frogg Cafe is a 5-piece band, and each of the 5 members is an accomplished musician. The sound is often dominated by a combination of Bill Ayasse's violin, and Nick Lieto¹s keyboard, with Lieto throwing in some fine trumpet playing also. Andy Sussman on bass and guitar, Frank Camiola on guitar and bass, and James Guarnieri on drums provide the song's structures. Lieto also provides excellent lead vocals, much in the vein of Kansas' Steve Walsh, with strong backing vocals by Ayasse and Sussman.
The songs on Frogg Cafe vary, from somewhat atonal jazzy epics, to songs of great beauty. Among the loveliest numbers are Questions Without Answers, which features exquisite instrumental work, and perhaps the strongest vocal on the CD, and Old Souls, perhaps the album's most accessible and radio friendly number. Old Man also falls into the quietly beautiful category.
Deltitnu, Candy Korn Parts 1 and 2, Space Dust, and While You Were Sleeping tend more towards atonality, and focus on long instrumental passages. Much credit has to go to this band for following their artistic impulses, and swimming against the current trends. Although some of the music may seem strange at first listen, this is a CD well worth taking the time to appreciate.
Io-Pages Nr. 44
April 2003 Review by Rene Ydema (translated from the original Dutch)
Lovers of obnoxious sounding progressive jazzrock can take a deep breath again, because just as is the case with Audiosynchrocy the New York based Frogg Cafe succeeds to get a grip on you straight away with their debut-cd. This record from 2001 received stunning critics on various prog-sites already and because of the fact that their 2nd album called Creatures will be released this spring it is good to give some extra attention again to this 5-piece band at this stage.
According their own info they are influenced by the big names in progressive rock, jazz and classical music from the beginning of the last century. Due to the fact that FC origins from a Frank Zappa cover band it is no surprise his spirit wonders through a song like Candy Korn.
Especially the 'multi layered sounds', where a lot of different instruments, often at the same time, produce many different melodies all together at the same time, is a trademark this band has in common with this legendary figure. A special remark in this case must be made to the violin playing of Bill Ayasse. It is also quite obvious he prefers the sound of the well-known 'strings' we know from the symphonic and jazzrock 'age' but with the same instrument he also likes to throw in a folksy sounding jig now and then.
His beautiful violin sounds are often surrounded by the guitar work of Frankie Camiola, who can play just 'tight' but also can produce some freaky riffs. On the other hand there are Nick Lieto's keyboards which are, apart from a few solo's, only there for a more 'supporting' role in the background. Now and then he is producing symphonic ‘carpets of sound' (like in the memorable sounding piece Old Man, with references in harmony singing reminding me of Wishbone Ash) overall he is looking more for jazzy piano sounds and a 'rumbling/thundering' organ style than anything else. He is much more 'up in front' when he picks up his trumpet for the more jazzy moments shared on this record.
Reviewing this album you could well compare FC with a band like French TV, especially because of the Gentle Giant and Canterbury Scene approach in their music whereas looking at the Roger-Dean-a-like cover art humor takes a most important place.