A rev' em up progressive fusion CD from Spotted Peccary? What is the world coming to? Something highly enjoyable if Chapman stick player Tom Griesgraber has anything to say about it! a whisper in the thunder is more thunder than whisper, so ambient and soundscape fans may be sent running for cover when ‘Ahab,’ the first track, erupts in a blaze of ethnic percussion, drum loops, thumping bass, soaring synth and the unusual melodic strains of ‘the Stick’ (one of the more unique instruments around). Joined by a host of guest artists on all manner of percussion, acoustic guitars, bansuri flute and more, Griesgraber lights up the sky (on Stick, stick-synth, bass, acoustic guitars, and loops) throughout this energizing album, putting enough of an edge on the music that it never becomes mundane ‘pop’ in nature, while also pushing the progressive envelope just enough to pique interest without alienating the neophyte. Moods vary considerably, from the pleasantly jaunty ‘El Prado’ which starts slow but becomes a showcase for the artist's unbelievably adroit work on the Chapman stick, to the lively ECM jazz-flavored ‘77 Times’ (one of my faves on this outstanding work, featuring solid drum kit work by Darren DeBree), to ‘Victor's Chase’ which constantly evolves over its nine minutes from moody and quiet to propulsive and primal and back again, exemplifying the appeal of progressive fusion music to blend improvisation with structure and create compositions that demand close attention to reap all they have to offer.
While the majority of the album is rhythmic and dynamic, ‘The Frozen Ocean’ displays that Griesgraber's talents extend into the ambient realm as well; the piece consists mainly of the sound of wind, sparse sonic textures, and traces of melodic elements that are forlorn and haunting. Likewise, ‘A Tiny Whispering Sound’ which is centered around minimal notes played on the Stick, hews closer to either minimal jazz or a melancholic type of new age music. Have no fear, though, as Griesgraber goes out on a joyful and celebratory globally-infused fusion note with ‘Waking the Day.’ Anchored by superb percussion from Jerry Marotto and Emily Weber's fine bansuri flute work, the piece is likely to make some listeners start dancing in cheerful exuberance with its infectious and flat out happy beat, carrying hints of Africa within its rhythms.
Admittedly, I was not prepared for this kind of recording to come from our friends at Spotted Peccary (especially with the more or less ‘typical’ artwork from the label adorning the CD cover). However, once I escaped the prison of my preconceptions, I found myself absorbed (to say the least) in the kinetic rhythms, the catchy melodic refrains, and (of course) the special magic that can only be heard emanating from the Chapman Stick. Tom Griesgraber is a real wizard on this instrument and he dazzles everywhere on a whisper in the thunder. For those who like powerful progressive fusion music, but yearn for something off the beaten track without desiring the bizarre or strange, this CD will likely do nicely - very nicely, in fact. Highly recommended!
- Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire