The Squid's Ear Magazine

Frog Squad: Special Noise (Mahakala Music)

Frog Squad is a Memphis, TN ensemble led by guitarist & composer David Collins, whose compositions provide song templates for improvised music under the influence of traditional jazz and jazz/rock fusion, psychedelic, contemporary and experimental forms, here in eleven works filled with compellingly strong melodic elements and surprisings twists and turns.

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product information:

UPC: 195269238414

Label: Mahakala Music
Catalog ID: MAHA-056
Squidco Product Code: 33402

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2023
Country: USA
Packaging: Digipack
Engineered by Dr. Jeff Sorenson, David Collins and Chad Fowler.


David Collins-guitars, vibraphone, keys, percussion, sound design

Khari Wynn-bass

Jon Harrison-drum set

Cedric Taylor-keys

Hope Clayburn-alto saxophone, soprano sax, flute, percussion

Franko Coleman-tenor saxophone

Chad Fowler-alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bari saxophone, alto flute

Aaron Phillips-tenor saxophone, bari saxophone, bass flute

Hector Diaz-congas and bongos

Click an artist name above to see in-stock items for that artist.

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"Listening to Frog Squad's new album from Mahakala Music, Special Noise, is akin to traversing the surface of a strange planet. It's not without recognizable landmarks, as moments of harmonious beauty arise, but listen also for strange sonic formations to erupt unexpectedly from this nine piece band.

From the first volley of horns, synthesizer, tweaked guitar, bass and drums that blasts from the title track, a descent into this foggy swamp world begins. From there, an authoritative guitar riff introduces the horns' driving-yet-delicate lead melody in track two, "Somersaulter," giving way to some soaring, edgy axe work by the group's chief guitarist and composer, David Collins.

If the magic of Memphis can be found in its confluence of carefully composed music with the creative looseness of the city's players, no group captures those two elements better than Frog Squad. Started by Collins in 2017, soon after he'd graduated from the University of Memphis, the band's always walked a fine line between the composed and the improvised. And the creative urgency of the latter comes from the musicians he's recruited to the cause.

Bassist Khari Wynn, also celebrated as the guitarist and musical director for Public Enemy, has been a mainstay of the group since the beginning. Frog Squad bears more resemblance to Wynn's solo projects, like the Sun Ra-inspired Energy Disciples, than to the world class hip hop he's best known for, and Collins wisely leaves his bassist plenty of creative headroom. "I don't tell Khari what to play much at all," says Collins, "because he just comes up with cool stuff. Once he gets familiar with the song he really takes off."

The two musicians' kinship runs deep enough for Wynn's own composition, "Sunspot," to be featured here, albeit in an arrangement crafted by Collins. Arranging is one thing he excels at, going back to his U. of M. days, though there's a paradox at the heart of his approach. Originally a drummer, Collins came to guitar later in life, yet that informs his approach to music. "There were a few things I arranged in college," Collins recalls, "and the teachers said 'This sounds like you arranged it on guitar.' And instead of taking that as an insult, I thought, 'Maybe that's a cool thing.'"

Guitar's an unexpected focus, considering Collins' upbringing. "In sixth grade I picked up the drums," he says. "But my grandpa, Aubrey Morris, was a piano player who played with Eddie Bond and Reggie Young, back in the day. I grew up really close with my grandparents, and he was always playing. I'd play drums with him on piano, and he'd show me stuff on it. So I learned both at the same time."

Collins' experience behind the kit may explain the nearly telepathic connection he has with drummer Jon Harrison. "Jon and I play so much together," Collins reflects, noting their frequent presence in the clubs of Memphis, "there are things we know about each other that come out organically in the music." Harrison's touch, augmented by Hector Diaz on congas and bongos, allows these tracks to shift efforlessly from the jazz mindset to solid funkock grooves, echoing the sounds of early fusion. "I think it comes naturally because of all the gigs people in the band play around town," Collins muses. With these players' chops forged in the clubs of Memphis for years, it's no wonder their driving momentum is so great here.

That's one reason the horn section is such a powerhouse. Hope Clayburn leads a band of her own, and countless live gigs have honed her effects pedal game as well as her strong voice on the alto sax, soprano sax and flute. Indeed, all the horns - including Franko Coleman (tenor sax), Chad Fowler (alto flute and alto, tenor and baritone sax), and Aaron Phillips (bass flute and tenor and baritone sax) - bring a strong effects pedal game to the proceedings.

Those skills dovetail nicely with Collins' penchant for atmospheric flourishes as he mixes the songs, but he's quick to point out that many of those otherworldly sounds come from the players themselves. That's especially true of the keyboard stylings of Cedric Taylor. "I didn't mess with his stuff too much," says Collins. "He's pretty incredible. The synthesizer work is mostly him. Like on 'Porch Couch,' where he uses a ring modulator on his keyboard."

The way Collins sees it, it's a full band effort. "Everything's better when you have multiple people putting their input on it. I can just bring in a rough sketch, and people play stuff over it I would never think of. It sounds cool that way and it brings things out of me that I wouldn't play otherwise." That's especially true when the players know each other well. "The band has settled in to what it is now," says Collins. And, having brought their own inimitable style to the last album, Frog Squad Plays Satie, these players are ready to read the most precise arrangements, yet with a bit of Memphis funk in all they do.

"I do like a certain looseness of things in music," says Collins, "that feeling that things could fall apart. And that's something I see in Memphis music a lot. It makes it feel more genuine. The band definitely knows these songs, but there are a lot of improvised parts, and that's where things can get unraveled."-Mahakahla Music

Artist Biographies

"Memphis based multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger David Collins has always been drawn to the experimental side of music, creating sounds based around texture, color, thematic development, and interplay. Collins began playing drum set and piano at the age of 12 by playing standards and classic country tunes alongside his grandpa Aubrey Morris (pianist for Eddie Bond). Collins' house was a hub for jam sessions and he quickly picked up other instruments, including guitar and bass. By the age of 15 he was performing weekly at a local restaurant and learning to read music in the school band.

Collins graduated with a B.A. in Jazz and Studio Performance from the University of Memphis in 2017 where he studied under Tim Goodwin, Sam Shoup, Jack Cooper, and Joe Restivo. In 2019 the Urban Arts Commission of Memphis enlisted Collins and Khari Wynn (Public Enemy's musical director) to compose and perform a piece of music for their 'Revisiting' program. The same year, Collins received a grant to arrange and perform a concert of music written by Memphis-based jazz luminaries.

Collins has had two albums recorded under his leadership added to the Memphis Public library's Memphis Sound Connection and works frequently as a frontman, sideman, and educator. He is the band leader for the bands Frog Squad, Freak Squid, and Stroke Photos, hosts the long-standing Sunday night jazz jam at the Cove in Memphis, and teaches at Memphis Music Academy. In 2022, he started 2722, an original sci-fi/ambient show on WYXR, which airs Sundays at 10pm CST."

-Patreon (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"I'm Chad Fowler. I write books, write and play music, write software, lead organizations (currently for Microsoft, in Berlin), invest in startups, speak at conferences, teach, learn, organize conferences, etc.

I started and co-organized a couple of Ruby-related conferences including The International Ruby Conference and RailsConf."

-Chad Fowler Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

Track Listing:

1. Special Noise 1:59

2. Somersaulter 6:54

3. Porch Couch 5:34

4. Dirge Vader 8:38

5. Captain Trips 0:41

6. Talons 6:27

7. Waking Up 5:28

8. Solar Ebbs 4:44

9. Sunspot 4:59

10. The Inescapable Truth 2:40

11. Water Snakes 5:23

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Large Ensembles
Melodic and Lyrical Jazz
New in Improvised Music
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