Frogg Café - Fortunate Observer Of Time


Year of Release: 2005
Label: ProgRock Records
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:49:00

Well, fortunately, the good news is that I've used up all my frog jokes, so I'll be a good tadpole and -- okay, just one -- and not annoy you. The bad news? Well, there isn't any. Unless of course you were looking forward to my - ahem - humour. You weren't? Ah, I see. Okay then.

Well, rather than there being bad news, there's better news. Observe: This is a nifty album from Frogg Café. And, I'd say a little more proggy than past efforts, but still we've got those jazzy, froggy elements [okay, maybe two]. Time being of the essence, I shant dally any further and hop to it [okay, maybe three].

I like Fortunate Observer Of Time very much, though I don't think it starts out with its strongest composition. Oh, "Eternal Optimist" is pleasant enough - how could it not with a title like that? Unless it was being ironic. There's the harmony of voices gliding over the choruses, unperturbed by the occasionally bumpy instrumentation (the edges too rounded off to be called angular); there's some lush instrumentation (hints of Kansas, hints of classical). And you'll find deep meaning in the lyrics. I think it's just a tad too nice, if that's possible. It's catchy and the chorus will stick in your mind and for any other band, this would be the highlight, a marriage of prog sensibilities and pop accessibility that would please either crowd. It's that very fact, that it occupies a nebulous niche between the two that ? well, for Frogg Caf?, it seems too ? safe.

And just when you think they are going to jam-out in this piece ? they don't. Bill Ayasse does play a very nice violin solo to close the piece out - and yes, we have to add to my likes of guitar, sax and trumpet solos (see my review of their debut) violin solos -- but it just? ends on that note; peters out, I guess is more accurate. But, this sense of safety will be crushed before we see the end of the album.

While there are similarly styled pieces on the rest of Fortunate Observer?, these seem to add a little something-something that gives them just that bit of an edge that "Eternal Optimist" lacks? and maybe it'd not feel so optimistic if I did have those edges? hmm? Anyway, I think the more musically and structurally interesting pieces are those that follow. And of those, my favorites are: "No Regrets," which mixes tumultuous keyboard and violin instrumental passages (that recall Kansas), with beautifully soaring vocal passages (Nick Lieto), with epic, ascending overtures, with a ballsy, and brassy, trumpet solo (Lieto). And Ayasse counters with an equally ballsy, and brassy, violin solo, played against some very nice piano. This takes the award for being their best piece on the album. It has the mellowness, the edge, the appeal, the warmth that I think is what they were going for with this album. Simply, and not so simply, great.

My other favorite is the darker "Abyss Of Dissension"? and how could a song with the word "abyss" in the title be anything but dark ? unless it was being ironic. Actually, listening to this track I thought of Presént; you know, the Belgian avant-garde group. This isn't quite that avant-garde, but compared to the album's other, more melodic pieces? well, this is sometimes downright spooky. Mournful trumpet and trombone start us out, somewhat funereal, somewhat martial. Well, I'd say a military funeral, actually, but we're getting too many of those these days (yet, as it happens, in the lyrics?). Then a slinky, bass-led passage takes us into the and beyond the first part of the song, just enough wah in the guitar to make one think of ? erm, dare I -- Starsky And Hutch? Listen closely to this piece, because there are so many subtleties to be heard - marimba, vibes, and congas (Ed Mann, Izzy Mergen) are woven into this? sultry and seductive composition. We may be headed down, down, down into the abyss, but somehow, musically, it doesn't seem like such a bad place, even as the arrangement is the sonic equivalent of red-hot molten lava... well, wherever we are, it's orange and red and all aglow. (You know where we are) Love it!

The martial aspect returns in a section that seems like it could have been on Pink Floyd's The Wall, the theatric aspects of that work. Here the Keeper speaks to those dwelling in the underworld, reminding them of their grim duty (digging graves for the military dead; you wouldn't believe me, but I had the feeling long before I looked at the lyrics) ?. And this where we find, erm, maybe this ain't such a fun and decadent place to be. What goes down, down, down into the underworld, stays in the underworld? Chilling.

In between, there's the instrumental title track, a mixture of dark (subtle keyboards) and light (violins, snickering percussion (James Guarnieri)), which evolves into something like a rearrangement of the classic Mission: Impossible theme (and, of course, I mean the classic series, not Cruise's movie version(s))? Different "movements" begin throughout the piece are begun each time with a different instrument, one time its guitar (Steve Uh); another, the bass (Andrew Sussman), even as they are restating the theme. In the case of the latter, it leads into a brassy trumpet solo (yes, I think all of Lieto's brassy solos are brassy; those that are, are, at least). Aside from the M:I reference, there's a hint of 70s in this piece. You can almost, but not quite, imagine it as theme music for some? other TV show (a drama, naturally).

In fact, now's as good a time as any to make this observation: there is, throughout, a 70s feel to the arrangements. Not dated, as the production and sound quality is 00s fabulous; but? I don't know quite how to explain it except to say, this wouldn't have been out of place 30-something years ago, except that we'd maybe be noticing then the more modern touches of today. (By the way, I don't mean the kitsch aspect of the 70s; no lava lamps, polyester, shag rugs. Lava, yes; lava lamps, no. Rather, I'm thinking more the warm and jazzy aspects, the cool and suave and hip aspects that are still cool and hip today).

"Reluctant Observer" is darker, and starts reluctantly, before tumbling into action (lots of percussion and guitar, though played mellow). More surefooted yet still not in complete control, we get another section of the lead-in lead by a slightly tart guitar. Things settle in when vocals take over. This has a similarly gliding chorus as "Eternal Optimist," but the edge that was missing there is here. Nice solo/duets/trios between guitar, violin and piano that alternate between each mode.

The brief "Resign" is pastoral, and while it has a balladic like cadence (and some fluttering classical guitar), it isn't really a ballad. A nice interlude before we get the occasionally modern-pop jazz like "You're Still Sleeping," which makes me think of Joe Jackson (he of "Steppin' Out" fame). Joshua is right in his review that this piece takes a while to get into its groove, and times you might call it drowsy (of course), but at 10-minutes plus, you have a lot of time to make a lot of musical observations. And fortunately, it doesn't sound like a band trying to find themselves. "Hustle and bustle" Joshua says in that same review - yep, that's just what we get at around the 4:45 mark and on (and another brassy trumpet solo). It's snappy and jovial, not at all sleepy. A screeching - but not in a bad way - guitar solo guides us back to our more drowsy, dreamy atmospheres (though in no way ambient). We are then lulled into a not-quite-so-peaceful sleep by a violin (perhaps two). And if the stuff of our dreams is "Abyss?" which follows?

No one else will probably say this, but I must tell you what I was thinking. All throughout I kept thinking that Lieto vocally sounded like someone else; and not something I'd observed before with Frogg Caf?? That someone else? Well, after a while it came to me: Jens van der Stempel, he who sang on but one album by the now defunct Egdon Heath. Not that Lieto has an accent (Egdon Heath were a Dutch band). And that trumpet? Well, every once in a while, I thought of ? well, not Billy Joel per se, but rather the trumpeter on 52nd Street, Freddie Hubbard. That's in addition to the occasional Kansas like dynamics of the instrumentation, mostly the violin, but not always. And some of the more classical moments (certainly the closer "Release"), mostly centered on Ayasse's violin, remind me of the similarly mellow passages of John Williams' Star Wars soundtrack - parts of the main theme, "Leia's Theme," etc. Hey! That's from the 70s, too!

What others will say, and have, is that this is a very good album. Not as jazzy as their debut (I've yet to hear Creatures; I know, for shame), but still plenty jazzy enough to satisfy that taste. It starts out good and gets to great along the way. Much better than flies; this frog is the prince in no disguise; hop on over to your nearest prog-pond ?


Tracklisting:
Eternal Optimist (6:31) / Fortunate Observer Of Time (7:04) / Reluctant Observer (9:27) / No Regrets (8:13) / Resign (1:05) / You're Still Sleeping (10:45) / Abyss Of Dissension (15:38) / Release (3:56)

Musicians:
Andrew Sussman - bass, cello, vocals marinated ice
Bill Ayasse - electric and acoustic violins, vocals, mandolin, percussion
Nick Lieto - lead vocals, keyboards, piano, trumpet, flugelhorn
Steve Uh - electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, violin
James Guarnieri - drums, percussion

Guests:

John Lieto - trombone (2, 4, 6, 7)
Steve Campanella - marimba (1, 3, 4, 6)
Ed Mann - marimba, vibes, percussion (7)
Izzy Mergen - congas (4, 6, 7)
Marjorie Ayasse - vocals
Sharon Ayasse - flute
Tim Roache - shhh (2)

Discography:
Frogg Caf? (2001/2004)
Creatures (2003)
Fortunate Observer Of Time (2005)
The Safenzee Diaries (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: June 10th 2007
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.froggcafe.com
Hits: 1233
Language: english

  

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