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French TV: The Violence of Amateurs (CD, 65:59); Pretentious Dinosuar Records, CD004 I have had the pleasure to sample much of FTV’s discography. I find this recent outing a winner. FTV is one wild, zany, and iconoclastic bunch of musicians with a penchant for the bizarre. They are all over the place compositionally but highly skilled nontheless. And such is the cream-pie-tossing way Sary and gang chase each other around on these six eclectic compositions. I have been reminded by Sary that I tend to say that FTV reminds me of nearly everything so this time I will attempt to narrow things a tad. Imagine Zappa, (Keneally and Fowler boys too), got together with National Health, Hatfield and the North, The Bonzo Dog Band, Volare, Zamlas Mammas Manna, and way too much designer coffee. What happens is magic and unpredictable fun. Mike Sary on bass and percussion, Dean Zigoris on guitar, gtr. synth and some keys, John Robinson on main keys, Brian Donohoe, (Volare, Matter Eater), guesting on drums, and Bob Douglas on more drums are all joined by many talented others on more keys, flute, reeds, violin, vocals, banjo, and assorted noises to create one fine release. They cover a Volare song, “The Odessa Steps Sequence” and Zamla Mammas Manna’s “Joosan Lost/The Fate”. Elsewhere we find four excellent FTV originals. Good stuff, (surf guitar outro included with purchase). I found the first 5:30 of the monolithic 21:40 “Joosan Lost/The Fate” wonderful, the next 7:00 was just FTV free form, improv meanderville. Things got a lot more interesting thereafter in the overdriven, wall-of-sound, extended 5:50 pseudo-finale movement. And finally the remaining 3:20 returns with an outro/reprise of the great jams of the piece’s early feel. If you have never tried FTV then start with this latest splash. ~ John W. Patterson
French TV (III): Virtue in Futility, (CD, 55:12) Pretentious Dinosaur Records, CDOO1, 1994 201 S Birchwood #1 Louisville, KY 40206 Email contact- Captain John Robinson
This band has gone through many incarnations that seem to revolve around the constant bassist/Chapman Stick-man/composer, (looks-like Jerry Garcia), Mike Sary. French TV is a challenge if you like categories in your reviews. But here's a sampling of the blurb-gist-soundzlikes they generate . . . Zappa, Gentle Giant, Canterbury, fusion, free improv, Magma, Happy the Man, symphonic, Rock In Opposition, Hatfield et al, Henry Cow, Brand X, Bruford, Weather Report, Soft Machine, National Health, Van der Graaf Generator, Camel, PFM, Genesis, King Crimson, Erik Satie, "Mad Magazine" and the "3 Stooges". And you guessed it, I will add now to the list. Overall this third release of FTV is just plain peppy, instrumental frolic. First track, "Hey! Real Executives Jump From The 50th Floor!" is a K. Crimson/(Red), Yes, ELP, mosaic of movements and time signatures. Well done. Next "Clanghonktweet", did the Curved Air romp with Hatfield and the North in a frenzied Zappa mode. Fun! Then "The Family that Oonts Together, Groonts Together" flailed mewith Zappa/Bruford, Canterbury meets Gong with Holdsworthian gtrs. And Mark Isham/Herb Alpert trumpet soloing too! Wonderfully crazy stuff. Fourth track was ambling free jazz, Steve Colemanish sax but with Phil Miller/Terje Rypdal gtrs. Track five, "Empate'" was K. Crimson/(Belew era) lounge jazz with early Isham trumpet excursions, Andy Summers gtrs., shimmering high hats, 70's Rypdal feel drifting into Zappa-crazed keys, more K. Crimson frenzy, great sax and gtr. lead breaks in the ultra-cool Lost Tribe groove. VERY HIP. Album's low point was "Friends in High Places", an 8:06 Iran-Contra investigation voice sampling put to minimalistic Skinny Puppy meets Clive Barker's Pinhead soundtrack drone. Sary is axe grinding creatively but not musically. Last 12:15 track was Brand X/Magma/Happy the Man/ free jazz with a weird boogie funk shuffle outro. Catch the drunken Vander/Gryphon vocals at the finale. A truly bawdy blast. I'm holdin' on to this FTV friends but deleting track 6 in my CD player's memory files. -- John W. Patterson French TV (IV): Intestinal Fortitude, (CD, 70:58) Pretentious Dinosaur Records, CDOO2, 1995 201 S Birchwood #1 Louisville, KY 40206 Email contact- Captain John Robinson Yes, they're back with a new lineup and still Mike Sary on bass and Stick. See the French TV (III) review of their previous album for more info 'bout this here band's influences and soundzlike report. Crazy wild jammin' still abounds on this one. Guitarist Tony Hall contributes two songs, "Perseids" a 14:12-er and "Black Day, White Light" weighin' in at 9:34. Talented keyboardist, Captain John Robinson gives FTV a fuller, orchestrated, slick, Zappa/Minnear/D. Stewart feel. We begin the joyride on "Um Tut Strut" with a carnival calliope carousel Zappa vein, Raymond Scott twists with rockin' musicians. Come one, come all, step right up for FTV! Spaced-out breaks cool your jets, saving your sanity then the mad rush carries youaway again with a slide whistle, gazoo-a-go-go! Help! Killer clowns march forth, sire! Is this a CW Vrtacek tribute? I dunno. Back to outer space you drift away in a Happy the Man/Yes outro with flut/gtr. overlays to peace at last. Whew! Egads, vocals?, in the madrigal Hatfield et al mien appear on track two, "No Raven Tonight". They're okay if your into the Elizabethan Gryphon thing. They even do the PFM-chat-sing as well backed up with Brand X/Canterbury keys and violin/flute interplay interwoven. Nicely pulled off. We also rock out in a Peter Banks battles Eddie Van Halen and finale in a true Genesis/Hackett moment. They outro with nightmare-cool "I am the walrus" crowd vocals. Hall's "Perseids" is not FTV but Hall. This three part piece begins with a syncopated PFM/Curved Air shuffle in the Dixie Dregs ballad flow. Very smooth. Part two is accoustic gtr. And flute work in a drifting bass, relaxed groove. ELP/(Lucky Man) keys build to finish, replacing the flute. Part three is early Blue Oyster Cult, rolling- along-the-highway with vocals shuffle/rock poppish ballad. Hall strikes again with track four in a King Crimson meets Ozric Tentacles meets Magma composition. There's nice Dregsy violin solo before we return to Gong meets Bruford. We finale in a Yes-ish, straight-up rock guitar lead outro. Again more Hallish than FTVish to me. Track five, "The Souls of the Damned Live in Failed Works" has the eerie circus keys, free jazz gtrs. and sax all ambling along, twisting, turning doing the Zappa/Magma thing. King Crimson talking narrator pops up a tad and vanishes for the jazz-fusion gtr. and keys. There's even a Sousa marching band moment. They outro in cartoonish soundtrack This is what I call French TV. Bizzarre!! Last (listed) track is "Pioneers over 'C'" a well crafted redo of a Van der Graaf Generator song. Decent vocals in a storytelling, operatic style are interesting but not my thing however. Secret track 7 is band members chatting/whining/bitching to ethereal piano. Filler. I prefer their previous album, "Virtue in Futility", over this one, but hey, I'm picky. -- John W. Patterson French TV (5) LIVE: Yoo-Hoo!, (CD, 69:35) Pretentious Dinosaur Records, CDOO3, 1997 201 S Birchwood #1 Louisville, KY 40206 Email contact- Captain John Robinson Well, this is a must for the French TV, completist fans. The only new tune is "The Tingler" which has some high energy fusion jammin' in cleverly disguised Flameco/Al Di Meola/RTForever flow. See the associated review for French TV (3) to get an idea about their distinctive style. Here's the rundown of the tracks with ratings and comments: * Track one: "Happy Armies Fight in their Sleep" from their first album, (weak to me) ** Track two: "The Tingler" new tune, (see earlier comments) *** Track three: "Clanghonktweet" from third album, (strong) **** Track four: "Friendly Enzymes" from second album, (My 2nd fav cut!! Bruford/Gongish) ** Track five: "The Souls of the Damned Live in Failed Works" from fourth album ***** Track six: "The Family that Oonts Together, Groonts Together" from 3rd album, better keys this version!! Go Robinson! Dean Zigoris shines on guitars like Bill Connors from RTForever. My numero uno fav cut. Well done. **** Track seven: "And the Dead Dog Lept Up and Flew Around the Room!" is a FTV standard in the Bruford/Khan/Zappa style. Keys are phat and Zigoris excels on guitars. Sary is a composer extrodinaire. This from their second album. There is an intriguing aquatic adventure soundtrack place in the song's middle that really builds towards a Magma-tension. Way cool piece in a Happy the Man way as well. * Track eight: "The Artist's House" from first album, (piano, lounge-jazz, and reggae!) ***** Track nine: "Hey! Real Executives Jump From the 50th Floor!" from 3rd album Live jams like they're meant to be -- Zigoris slays his guitar, Robinson does the Ozric Tentacles jive on synths and Bob Douglas seriously kicks some drum butt. Of course Sary is constant on bass and yeah he wrote this gem. The improv section is Hawkwind/OT in the finest psych-rock head-groove. Crickets in the Caravanserai daze lull you to sleep live? outro. Overall this live CD is a good way to catch up on FTV you've missed. Yoo-Hoo! -- John W. Patterson
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