Drawing heavily on Eastern influence and instrumentation, Loren Nerell and Mark Seelig’s Tree of Life wastes no time in sending its listener into a blissfully transcendental state. And a fine state it is. Over six mid-length tracks, the shortest running a touch over eight minutes, your mind is salved and soothed by bansuri flute, sarangi, tanbura, gamelan, overtone singing, and more. It is Seelig’s gorgeous overtone work that starts the process, rising out of a backdrop of nature sounds and a misty drone on “Wacah Chan.” This track runs 20 minutes deep and I would almost be content just to leave it looping. After Seelig’s voice has opened the space, he shifts to flute, accented by the crisp snap of tabla from percussionist Max Link. Link’s contributions are essential here, grounding the proceedings as the listener falls further inward. It glides perfectly into “Cintinmani,” the first few minutes of which are a showcase for more of Seelig’s elegant flute work. The sound here is clean and stripped back–nothing but an underlying drone, the flute and the drum, and the simplicity of it is where its strength comes from. When the overtone returns, it just vibrates your soul and moves you into a personal and sacred space. The tone shifts a bit on “Yggdrasil,” growing a touch more shadowy and earthy. Here we dig down to the depths of the spirit, the roots of consciousness, and it is warm and dark and genuine. The nature sounds return here and Link’s percussion takes the front. It’s more bass-oriented, harder and more primitive. Heavy drones, roughened at the edges, take on an animalistic feel. For me, this is the place I like my tribal music to take me–straight to the deepest parts of my primal mind. Sarangi from Pankaj Mishra comes in on this track, the vibrant cry of the bowed strings sharp against the thickness of the sounds around it. There is just so much dimension to this track as it builds in layer after layer. It grows to a savage crescendo, then literally crashes to an absolutely perfect segue. “Kayon” arrives on the calming sound of waves, a stunning juxtaposition coming out of “Yggdrasil,” but one that’s instantly effective. Our breathing slows, we welcome the softness, we are called by the chant that rises in prayer. Now it’s Nerell’s turn to step forward; as “Kayon” sways and floats, the crystalline chimes of the gamelan ring out, falling soon into a steady cadence–high, low, high, low–and shimmering with vibatro. It becomes a clockwork rhythm, a metronomic pulse for us to focus on as our breathing comes in line. This track will keep you well-hypnotized. I have always loved the near-dissonant voice of the gamelan, and it’s in full effect here. Mishra’s sarangi returns in a more prominent role on “Acacia.” It feels like it takes over that shimmer from the gamelan; the instrument’s wailing, ululating voice is a signature sound of Eastern music. Nerell anchors it with what sounds like the drawn-out tone of a harmonium, then secures it further with a drone on tanbura. This is the soundtrack to every film you’ve seen that opens on a wide shot of the desert–and it’s beautiful. Mishra draws out emotion with every pull of bow across strings. This is an incredibly spiritual track. It melts into the closer, “Arbor Vitae,” where we are caressed by Seelig’s flute singing a lullaby over the plush warmth of the tanbura and soothing nightsounds–crickets and (perhaps?) tree frogs. Seelig’s playing is impeccable here, a smooth dance infused with the joy of life. As the track closes, the urge to let this journey arc back around once more is undeniable.
It is completely without hesitation that I tell you that Tree of Life is THE best album I have heard in quite a while. It is a release I don’t want to stop listening to. It is superbly constructed and expertly produced. It is deep and true and organic and intimate and moving. Nerell and company give themselves ample space in which to lay out these gorgeous ideas, and then execute them flawlessly. Where it is energizing, it is completely so; where it is soothing, it is utterly so. Listening to this truly engages mind, body and spirit as one, and the journey is stunning. This is an album you cannot miss. A masterpiece.
Available from Projekt.