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Frogg Café

Frogg Café - Fortunate Observer Of Time - 2005 - ProgRock Records

The Fortunate Observer of Time is the second album by Frogg Café I have had the chance of reviewing, the first one being the excellent Creatures, that was a very interesting and eclectic progressive rock album. On that album, the highlight for me was "Waterfall Carnival", clocking at more then 20 minutes, that was more melodic than the rest of the album and somewhat reminded me of Echolyn. The Fortunate Observer of Time is the perfect follower to Creatures. It remains in the spirit of it's predescessor, blending progressive rock, jazz, improvisations... but the music has become slighly less "all over there", meaning that the band members seem to have focused more on the melodies and slighly less on complex arrangements. In my opinion this makes The Fortunate Observer of Time the product of a more mature and confident band. It should appeal to wide range of fans, those into melodic symphonic prog (Echolyn, Spocks Beard...), those into Fusion and also those into the creativeness of a Frank Zappa should all be find their niche in Frogg Café's music. For many the highlight of the album will be the 15 minute long "Abyss of Dissension", featuring the talents of Frank Zappa's percussionist Ed Mann, but the whole album is of incredible quality. Highly recommended. © Marc, Published on: 14 Jul 2005 , © ProGGnosis - Progressive Rock & Fusion

The music on this album has been labelled "fusionesque chamber music" by one reviewer, and that's a good description. However, it still falls into the realm of progressive rock or progressive art rock music. The whole album is a sonic journey. Jazz style improvisations permeate through the album, as do recurring elements of classical music. There are strong melodies, and angular harmonies, and if you can concentrate on listening to this album, you will find rewards in it's originality and musical invention. If you like Canterbury Rock bands like Slapp Happy, Gentle Giant, or Henry Cow, you may find this album interesting. Love him or loathe him, the late Frank Zappa explored similar musical themes with an added touch of psychedelia, and Frank's ’s percussionist, Ed Mann plays percussion, marimba, and vibraphone on the great "Abyss of Dissension" track. Listen to Frogg Café's "Creatures" album, and Gentle Giant's "Acquiring the Taste." album. It is also worth listening to recordings by Dagmar Krause, Hatfield and the North's s/t album, and Faust's "Faust...In Autumn" album. There is info on Slapp Happy & Faust's wonderful "Acnalbasac Noom" album @ SLHP/FST Try out the Tin Hat Trio's "Helium" album @ THT/HEL and Acid Mothers Gong's "Live at Uncon" recording @ AMGNG/LAU Again, as stated a hundred times on A.O.O.F.C, don't let the terms avant garde, free jazz, or art rock deter you from listening to these albums. Many of them are totally accessible, and a truly enjoyable listening experience. Give this music a chance before you start making frisbees!


1 Eternal Optimist Lieto 6:32
2 Fortunate Observer of Time Lieto 7:07
3 Reluctant Observer Lieto 9:31
4 No Regrets Lieto 8:14
5 Resign Lieto 1:04
6 You're Still Sleeping Lieto 10:43
7 Abyss of Dissension Sussman 14:38
8 Release [instrumental] Lieto 3:56


Bill Ayasse Mandolin, Percussion, Violin, Vocals, Violin (Electric)
Marjorie Ayasse Vocals
Sharon Ayasse Flute
Steve Campanella Marimba
James Guarnieri Percussion, Drums
John Lieto Trombone
Nick Lieto Piano, Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Keyboards, Vocals
Ed Mann Percussion, Marimba, Vibraphone
Andrew Sussman Bass (Electric), Cello, Vocals


When I received the CD of this album from Bob, I spun it right away and it blew my mind at first spin. This third album of the New York based contemporary prog band is my second experience after I enjoyed their excellent second album Creatures (2003). This new album has proved that the band is much more mature with their music creation. Even though the second album is an excellent record, this one is better. The band has significantly progressed in a positive direction in their own musical identity. I did not need to have another spin to accept the music of this album because I have been familiar with their music and the kind of Frank Zappa’s music. Another factor also is that, in a way the music of Frogg Café is similar to Discus and Anane (Indonesian prog bands). The Frogg Café embryo was born 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, Jethro Tull, Focus, Genesis, and even the more avant-garde styles. The members of this unique group are Nick Lieto (vocals, keyboards, trumpet), Steven Uh (guitars), Bill Ayasse (violin, mandolin), Andrew Sussman (bass), and James Guarnieri (drums). All of the members of Frogg Café are university trained in music. In this album, the band brings in seven additional musicians including ex Frank Zappa’s percussionist Ed Mann on the 15-minute epic Abyss of Dissension. Having enjoyed two Frogg Café albums, I can confirm that their music blends elements from many styles like progressive rock, classic rock, jazz & improvisation, driving melody lines, angular harmonies, modern chamber music and avant-garde into a cohesive listening experience. In this album, you might hear influences from Zappa, Gentle Giant, Kansas, King Crimson, Phish even from jazz musicians like Chuck Mangione, Deodato, Miles Davis, etc. Let’s have a look in great details … The album opener Eternal Optimist starts off wonderfully with powerful and catchy voice of Lieto combined with excellent melodies and music harmonies. This is for sure a song-oriented composition that blends the sounds of seventies classic rock (with bands like Humble Pie, Grand Funk Railroad, or Cactus) with jazz rock, pop, and progressive rock. The meaty guitar licks of Steve Uh characterizes the style of this opening track. The music flow is floating steadily and moving from one style to another with relatively smooth transition. Fortunate Observer Of Time begins with a beautiful exploration of violin and cello works that remind me of David Cross work (as solo artist and as member of King Crimson) combined with solid bass lines and stunning guitar. This instrumental track casts a jazzy nuance. The trombone solo in the middle of the track reminds me to the flugelhorn-based music of Chuck Mangione. Reluctant Observer is a great track with loads of intricate piano/guitar/violin/cello interplay augmented with excellent bass lines of Andy Sussman and the intricate drumming by James Guarnieri. Style-wise, this track provides us with tons of fusion groove. Lieto demonstrates how he has advanced himself as an excellent lead singer as his voice unifies melody and pop sensibilities. Ayasse's violin work gives the Kansas nuance as the violin sounds like Robby Steinhardt’s. It’s a wonderful track! No Regrets starts with a moderately complex music that moves smoothly and brings us to a quieter passage where Lieto’s voice enters the music augmented with piano touches. Tempo-wise, it’s slower than the previous track. You might sense the similarity with Kansas music. The flugelhorn solo in the middle of the track played by Lieto is really good. Resign is a one-minute track that features powerful voice quality of Lieto backed with violin work. It continues almost seamlessly to You're Still Sleeping where I can sense the nuance of Echolyn music with great jazzy vocals. The piano touches that accompany the singing part is really stunning. This relatively long song (approx 10 minutes) is moderately complex in arrangement combining great work of violin, piano and guitar. Yes, there is some thin influence of Kansas but interestingly it is composed on top jazzy music textures. During the transition piece, I can sense the influence of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. The combination of bass work and piano is really awesome. It’s a great composition that favours those of you who like jazz-fusion style. I think the album highlight is the approximately 15-minute epic Abyss of Dissension which starts off with long sustain notes of brass section followed with very nice funk / groove music with solid bass lines that flows wonderfully with brass section. This track is I think accessible (at least at the opening part) in addition to the album opener. Most of you would enjoy how great the harmonies created by brass work, vocal and accompanying music. The track also contains Latin music elements with its specific percussion work. The electric guitar solo is really stunning – it has a flavour of Carlos Santana’s style. This track is written by bassist Andy Sussman and also features former Frank Zappa vibes/marimba player Ed Mann. Of course I cannot forget the excellent combination of wah-wah guitars, thick horn section and vibes. It’s really a rewarding epic to enjoy! The concluding instrumental Release is an atmospheric piece with flutes (played by Sharon Ayasse), Sussman's cello, and violin. It’s explorative in nature. Overall, Fortunate Observer of Time is a true gem as it has a very unique sound that blends many elements of various music styles. Musically, it is melodic, tasty - with memorable segments, composed in relatively complex structure and it’s explorative in nature. It’s a recommended album. Conclusion: 9 out of 10 © GATOT WIDAYANTO , © www.dprp.net

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. © Pete Pardo, © www.seaoftranquility.org

This is a band that I had been wanting to hear for a while, ever since I heard that they started out as a Frank Zappa tribute band. When the opportunity arose to hear Ground and Sky's review copy of the band's 2005 release, I jumped at it. It wasn't until I read the promotion sheet that came with the disc that I discovered that ex-Zappa band member Ed Mann plays percussion on the album's longest track, "Abyss of Dissension." My first impression of the album... well, it wasn't good. A lot of that is probably because I just don't like the first song at all. It sounds like they were going for a relatively simple symphonic prog song, but then had to complicate it to make it fit the awkward, convoluted lyrics. Once I got past that though... The second track on the disc is the instrumental title track. It, and the album's instrumental interludes in general, are where the band shines. The music sounds like a proggy cross between classical composition and jazzy improvisation, with long violin and trumpet solos. These instrumental sections remind me of the little bit of After Crying that I've heard. The album's lyrics sound like the band was attempting some sort of grand concept album about life, death, fate, religion, etc, but bit off a little more than they could chew. But then I'm not much of a lyrics guy to begin with, so maybe other prog fans will enjoy them more than I do. Due to the heavy doses of violin and the philosophical lyrics, the album reminds me somewhat of Kansas, although Frogg Café aren't as adept at writing memorable melodies and hooks as that band. Oddly, given the band's origins and the guest artist, I don't really hear all that much of a Zappa influence in the music. Except for one of the vocalists — it bugged the heck out of me the first time I listened to the CD because I couldn't figure out who he sounded like. Then it finally hit me that his voice bears more than a passing resemblance to Ahmet Zappa's, who sang in the band Z that he formed with brother Dweezil. A lot of this album has a "prog by numbers" feel to it, such as the obvious nod to Gentle Giant with a vocal counterpoint section in "Abyss," or the closing track "Release" with its string quartet and flute that sounds like something off King Crimson's Islands. To some degree the album also reminds me of Echolyn, but I'm not entirely sure why. All in all the CD isn't bad, and I could certainly see it appealing to many prog fans, but it just didn't convert me into a fan. Maybe seeing the band in a live setting, where I've heard they frequently throw in some Zappa covers, would do more to convince me. © Bob Eichler © ground and sky 1999-2008

Out of all their releases, this third one is best. These frogs have grown from tadpoles to adult amphibians and now they’re hopping on all fours. As younglings, they were already developing music that was well above the average. Whether or not they were ready to play with the big dogs, or progs in this case, was merely a matter they would resolve in a later saga. The story has come full circle. This is their most superior and sophisticated creation yet. This is undoubtedly the most uplifting out of all their records and it’s one of the biggest surprises of the year. Moreover, their most recent advancements are the ones that work best for them. They have really progressed beyond their previous installment, “Creatures.” There will be no going to the dark side in this third act of the trilogy. To the contrary, this one brings us some light that we’ve needed for some time. There is something a little flowery in the music this time around. Considering their comparisons with The Flower Kings, I wouldn’t be surprised if the paternity tests prove to be positive. While there is certainly crossover between The Flower Kings and Frogg Café, by no means is there any mimicry happening here. It’s just a clever collaboration of innovative ideas with ones that have already been proven. Then again, their greatest strengths revolve around their use of trumpet and other instruments atypical to rock music. I have never heard these types of instrumentations used so effectively in these kinds of compositions. I guess you could say I’ve never heard them used this way at all. It is truly clever how they integrated trombones, marimbas, congas, cellos, and flutes seamlessly into the mix, but it’s the trumpet that really outshines them all. These frogs are true fans of progressive rock themselves. Not to mention, they are all music teachers by trade. This combination results in the culmination of many captivating cuts. The café is open for business and full of atmosphere. The selections are savory, the fluids are fragrant, the beans are richly-roasted, and the odors are amorous. Take a seat, kick back, and sip on your balmy beverages while these frogs flabbergast you with a fog of progressive gratification. Here’s what you can expect to come to fruition in Frogg Café’s latest edition: Track 1: Eternal Optimist – This is so different than anything that came before, it is almost bewildering. It’s folksy, yet it aerates an air of eccentricity. It’s obvious this music was heavily influenced by their stint as a Frank Zappa tribute band. It’s an odd choice for an album opener, because it is unexpectedly unlike anything they’ve ever done in the past. Despite the history, it won’t take long for you to warm up to it. Track 2: Fortunate Observer of Time – The title track starts out with almost the exact same notes as Karmakanic’s At the Speed of Light, but ultimately goes in an alternate direction. Rather than a wild plunge, this one soars up into the skies. As sure as Darth Vader is Luke’s father, this is the best track to come from them so far. What’s weird is that it’s completely instrumental. Bill Ayasse’s violins are so stunning; they put the Mellotron to shame (my apologies for this blasphemous outburst). Bill makes his mark on this masterful and melodies excursion in more ways than one. While Nick Lieto’s trumpet takes us on a tranquil trek, his bass tiptoes casually close behind. While I have nothing against their singing, this is just the most blissful work they’ve ever managed to create. Track 3: Reluctant Observer – It didn’t take long to break box office records. This one tops the previous blockbuster. The opening lays down a thick layer of soft sod. As time elapses, the stems sprout from the sumptuous soils that cover the ground. This has the quaintness and quirkiness of Flying Food Circus, but it’s accompanied by vocals that are closer to a Las Vegas lounge act. What’s great about this song is that while it’s long, it has a number of unique bridges. Themes reappear, but there is almost no true repetition. There are so many exceptional elements in this song, it is sure to cause an epidemic. Majorie Ayasse adjoins her astounding harmonies to a chorus that’s already highly contagious. This results in widespread panic. Each of the string instruments, whether guitar, violin, or marimba, contribute to the mass hysteria. Chances are you too will fall victim to this outbreak of melodic malaria. Track 4: No Regrets – As each song so far has subsequently surpassed the prior track, this one keeps the streak alive. This one is a total holy cow. While earlier works may have been closer to Zappa, this one really shows their Flower King tendencies. There are several passages where hardcore fans would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Nick’s trumpet solo is terrifyingly terrific. The trombone, marimba, and congas give this compelling cannonball much added weight. Track 5: Resign – This short song is exactly what one could expect from James Taylor and it works well as an easy interlude between two potent pieces. Track 6: You’re Still Sleeping – This brings in acts from all over the globe. It takes awhile for them to get setup. Then about halfway through, clowns, trapeze artists, lion tamers, the whole three-ring extravaganza, gets going in a rush. This instrumental passage is a lot like what we found in “No Regrets” and it has a ton of hustle and bustle. These instrumental sections happen to be my favorite parts of the album. I’m sure you’ll find each one of them just as welcome. Track 7: Abyss of Dissension – At 14:38, this is longest track on the album. Aspects of it are dark and dreary, yet it fancies the merriment of a Mardi Gras celebration. It starts with a king’s coronation and then gets outright groovy. As the beat begins to penetrate your space, you’ll become mesmerized by the music. A soft and silky aura invades the area around you. You’ll start to gel as these velvety sounds surround you. With a yawn, you’ll lose complete consciousness. When you come back from this cozy coma, you’ll feel both violated and relaxed. It’s as if you’ve been massaged from head to toe without your prior consent. Andrew Sussman’s bass is the most mischievous element in this allegedly lewd act. Later on, Gentle Giant breaks from the surface with a spectacular shard of acapella harmonies. This is followed by creepy avant-garde vocals and sounds, which oddly enough, share a similar disposition with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. The ending of the song is both unique and creative, but this remaining slice is so cold, it will chill you to the bone. Track 8: Release – The real wrap-up came in the previous track. This delicate and diminutive ditty is just the wind-down and the music here is completely classical. In this brief encounter, we hear a flute from Sharon Ayasse along with other classical instruments. It’s an absorbing recital to cap the crown’s precious jewelry. Overall, the production is polished, the compositions are classy, and the songs are smooth and shiny. All in all, the results of this album are simply priceless. 9/10 © Josh Turner, © www.prog4you.com


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), Steven Uh (guitars), Bill Ayasse (violin, mandolin), 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 their self-titled debut Frogg Cafe and the 2003 release Creatures, Frogg Cafe is proud to announce the release of their third studio album, Fortunate Observer of Time, through ProgRock Records, on June 21, 2005. In addition to extensively touring popular clubs in the Northeast, in 2004 Frogg Café performed at The Rites of Spring Festival (PA), NewEars Series (MA), NJProghouse (NJ) and a European tour of Germany, Austria, and Belgium. They have also been invited to perform at NEARFEST (Northeast Art Rock Festival) at Lehigh University's Zoellner Arts Center, the biggest American progressive rock festival in the country, in early July.Frogg Café has performed with major rock acts Caravan, Happy the Man, Proto-Kaw featuring Kerry Livgren of Kansas, The Flower Kings, The Grandmothers of Invention, and the legendary percussionist Ed Mann sat in at the Zappanale Festival in Germany. They have received major accolades from distinguished rock websites and magazines such as The Giant Progweed, The Axiom of Choice, Progression Magazine, Io Pages and legendary figure of progressive music Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. [ from www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=7339459&style=music]

1 comment:

A.O.O.F.C said...

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