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Sweet Smell of Vindication

Pop music: Overtures of a return to an orchestral presence in rock give fresh legs to oft-maligned Ambrosia, which is considering a new album.


Progressive-rock band Ambrosia spent most of its heyday in the '70s and '80s being drubbed by rock critics for its grandiose arrangements and lofty art-rock ambitions.

Though the Los Angeles band used eccentric time signatures and orchestral sonic textures like front-line prog-rock outfits such as Genesis, it also demonstrated an appreciation for economical songwriting.

It's a sound that Ambrosia singer, guitarist and songwriter David Pack thinks is making a comeback.

"What I like about what's happening in music now is that I'm starting to hear an orchestral presence again in rock, like with the Smashing Pumpkins and even some Green Day songs," Pack said from Nashville, ahead of the group's show Thursday opening for the Doobie Brothers in Cerritos.

And yes, it gives him some sense of vindication about his band, which has survived and continues to tour.

"I don't feel like a victim. Just knowing that the band has made music that stands the test of time is a statement by itself. The fact is that we're still around."

Indeed, after enduring a bitter breakup in 1982, the four band members eventually started missing each another. Seven years later, they reunited for some live gigs. The band has continued to tour on and off since, and is now considering recording an album of new material.

"We have enough music to make a new record," Pack said. "But it's also hard to find the right label to promote it correctly. Even though I'm working on a solo album right now, Ambrosia is a whole other musical universe for me, and I tend to write differently within that context."

Like many of its contemporaries, Ambrosia, which formed in 1971, was born out of its members' desire to emulate the Beatles. But by the time the foursome released its first album in 1975, a new, elaborate style was all the rage. Bands such as Genesis, Pink Floyd and Gentle Giant brought their formal training and classical influences to contemporary music, creating majestic works that stretched the boundaries of rock 'n' roll.

"What we didn't like about progressive rock was that it was too flamboyant without substance," said Pack, 47. "Those bands dated themselves by making the arrangements more of the central focus than the quality of songwriting. I think that we were different in that respect."

"We were also influenced by the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel and all the great rhythm-and-blues stuff that was happening at the time. We were like sponges, absorbing all good music that was around. We were hoping to be like the Beatles but able to orchestrate our own music."

After the band's breakup, Park started a new career as a record producer with the help of Quincy Jones. Since then, he has produced albums by Natalie Cole, Wynonna Judd, Aretha Franklin and a star-studded tribute to his mentor, Leonard Bernstein.

"Until I started producing people, I never realized that we had fans within the industry," he said. "When I heard Patti LaBelle and Quincy Jones telling me that they love Ambrosia songs . . . it gave me confidence that as a band, we were on the right track."


Does that suggest the world might be ready to embrace Ambrosia again?

"You hear orchestral instruments working their way back into rock, giving it a greater depth of field," Pack said. "There's definitely a bridge between the '70s and the late '90s. What we were trying to do back then is coming back around. And I love that."


* Ambrosia opens for the Doobie Brothers on Thursday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. 8 p.m. $37-$52. (800) 300-4345.

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