Live version of "War Dance", November, 2012|
2012 CD, 14 tracks, $12
Tom Griesgraber: Grand Stick, synths
Bert Lams: acoustic guitar
Unnamed Lands, the debut studio release by the Stick and guitar duo of Tom Griesgraber (Agent 22) and Bert Lams (California Guitar Trio), takes us on a settlers' journey through the Old West, an epic tale often told in legend and song, but now re-imagined by Tom and Bert through the lens of contemporary sounds, rhythms, harmony and instrumentation.
Thematically, Bert and Tom connect more traditional sounds and styles with the hopeful point of view of settler protagonists. From an anthemic "Don't Look Back", to a bucolic "Prairie Suite", a nostalgic "A Letter Home" and a sentimental "Rebecca", all these songs are quite "acoustic" in their character. Tom's clean, minimally processed Stick bass sounds at times like a lower extension of Bert's guitar strings, one register blending nicely with the other to complete an orchestra of plucked and tapped strings.
Mysterious, aggressive, cacophonous, atonal and polyrhythmic elements represent the myriad threats faced by settlers including the unknown landscape ("Where the Trail Divides"), the hostile natural world ("Insects","A Red Glow Against the Sky", "Lumbering Prowlers"), and the Native American inhabitants ("Smoke Signals", "War Dance", "Unearthly Screams/Scattered"). Each piece has a distinct identity, with shifting keys, tempos and tonalities propelling the listener further Westward.
A beautifully designed and illustrated 12-page booklet (by Milk Graphic Design's Jack and Laurent Durieux) spins the settlers' tale through brief vignettes written by Tom, one for each track. The period-inspired drawings and graphics complete the look and guide us on our journey.
As a duo, these two virtuoso instrumentalists have a chemistry that can't be faked in the studio, but only comes through extensive touring and rehearsing. They are both accomplished rhythm players and soloists, trading these roles as needed, one always complementing the other in thoughtful dialogue. The arrangements have a spontaneity that belies the four years it took Tom and Bert to complete this project.
Unnamed Lands is spectacularly produced, with a clear and integrated sound throughout, as mixed by Tom and Howard Givens of Spotted Peccary Records. Though there are no drums present, the naturally percussive tones of the Stick and the acoustic guitar lay out the groove with driving precision. This sonic landscape is alive with wailing and abstract synths, distorted Stick and guitar polyrhythms and leads, and always that far-off horizon. Who knows what we will hear as we cross the next ridge on our way to the glorious Pacific?
Waking the Day Marotta/Griesgraber 2006 CD $12.
For his latest release Southern California Stick artist Tom Griesgraber has teamed up with veteran rock and prog drummer Jerry Marotta. They call their duo Marotta/Griesgraber, and they are truly equal partners in contributing to this "expanded duo" instrumental disc, adding several layers of sound to the core duo they have honed through extensive touring in Europe and the US.
Fans of Tom's solo work and his band Agent 22 will recognize a few tracks, re-recorded with a new polish and clarity, including his very-catchy odd-metered "77 Times" and his anthemic "Ifs Jam." These tunes are great examples of Tom's compositional style: strong melodies over pure major and minor tonalities, spiced up with some odd time signatures and arrangments that have a more dramatic shape than the typical instrumental "melody-solo-melody" format.
In addition to their Grand Stick and drums, Marotta/Griesgraber add synths, bass sample loops and guitar, with guest performances by Harvey Jones and Tony Levin.
A Whisper in the Thunder 2004 CD $12.
With his latest solo release, "A Whisper in the Thunder," Tom Griesgraber brings us a beautiful recording of the absolute best from his work of the last five years. The fruit of his labor is a masterfully crafted set of nine original pieces featuring his distinctive Stick work as well as contributions by the California Guitar Trio, drummer Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel and Tony Levin Band), King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto, NS/Stickist Don Schiff, and several other musicians.
Tom has always been a bit of a stickler for the quality of his live sound and is no different in the studio. His attention to detail pays off big dividends as the recording of this CD is superb. The sounds of the Stick, clean, processed and driving MIDI sounds, as well as the drums percussion, guitars and bass (the last also played by Tom) are lush and clean without being overpowering at all.
"A Whisper in the Thunder" reflects Tom's ethic of Stick performing and arranging, where his choices are made in service to his music and not to his instrument. His strong sense of melody is all over this record. The first track, "Ahab," jumps right in with signature Mastelotto percussion along with Tom's airy accompaniment on bass and Stick. From there, the record moves through a series of solo Stick and ensemble tunes, from the solo "El Prado" through the catchy "77 Times" and into the "Jungle" composition parts I and II that lead the listener through a buffet of moods culminating in the loop laden finale in part II. The record ends with a dynamic and powerful rendition of a quintessential Griesgraber tune, "Waking the Day."
Besides its great appeal to any fan of contemporary instrumental music "Whisper" should be considered a "must have" Stick CD of 2004. Tom makes good use of not only the clean and full sound of the Stick itself but also shows off tasteful use of audio processing on the instrument as well as MIDI. This and the inspired sonic interplay between The Stick and the drums and percussion make this record a joy to hear from start to finish.
Agent 22 - First Witness (live at the Belly Up) 2001 CD $12.
This sequel to Agent 22's self titled album was recorded live during the group's winning performance at the Belly Up Tavern's Best of the Year competition in San Diego. The excitement of the competition is evident in the playing and the crowd response throughout, and with no knowledge that they were being recorded the group took some chances musically that might never have happened in a studio setting. Live, energetic and raw, First Witness presents a unique snapshot of Agent 22 in action.
Agent 22 1999 CD $12.
Agent 22 mixes the talents of Stick player Tom Griesgraber with dual guitarist Jimmy Patton and drummer/percussionist Ryan Moran. The combination of Stick with tapped guitars can at times sound like one gigantic tapping instrument, and at other times like a small orchestra of different musicians. The Stick functions in both a "bass" and "guitar" role using sounds that range from the clean unaffected tone to distortion with some MIDI and VG-8 sounds thrown in as well. Drums, congas, tablas and a variety of other percussion sounds round out the trio. Eleven original instrumental tracks mix rock, jazz and funk.