If ever a subgenre was in need of a transfusion, it's ethno-tribal ambient. With The Gate, a new recording from Terra Ambient (the alias of one Jeff Kowal), that transfusion has arrived and the patient is now not just healthy, but vibrantly alive! The Gate is among the finest recordings released in this genre since the turn of the century, and can placed alongside albums such as o yuki conjugate's undercurrents in dark water, Tuu's All Our Ancestors, Steve Roach and Robert Rich's Soma, as well as the recordings from Suspended Memories or Kenneth Newby. Yes, it is that good.
What astounded me was how Kowal accomplished this feat without the use of synthesizers. Instrumentation on the album includes his voice (harmonic overtone singing and other vocals), electric guitar, bansuri flute, didgeridoo, and more ethnic percussion than I will bother to list here, except to say it's a lot! Most of those are subject to some sort of processing (not the percussion, though) and that is how Kowal achieves such superb textures without using a keyboard of any type whatsoever. The Gate is an amazing achievement in sound design and recording wizardry.
Many of the tracks feature ethno-tribal percussion, yet the music carries a wafting sense of primal sensuality, even when there are rhythms present. Other apt descriptors would be: haunting, surreal, mysterious, earthy, shadowy, entrancing, and rapturously beautiful. Make no mistake about it, despite the darker tint to most of the music here, it is still utterly beautiful.
Kowal apparently excels at everything. His Bansuri flute work is wondrous, as it floats over the didgeridoo, carrying the main melody along as if it was a wisp of incense borne by a gentle wind. Speaking of his didgeridoo, he uses it in refreshingly subtle ways, so that it adds muted colors to a selection without overpowering everything else going on (a frequent complaint I have with that instrument on most albums). However, it's his percussion work that impresses me the most, as well as how he integrates his various vocal abilities among the rest of the assembled parts.
Allow me to detail some of this fantastic album's highpoints. ‘majoun’ is a Gamelan-type number and it's simply stunning, domin