Frogg Café – Bateless Edge

they look like weights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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