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The Gateway

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Album Review

From the jumpy percussive nature of the first two tracks of Ralf Illenberger's The Gateway, one might expect a door opening to an exotically textured, Metheny-meets-funk set. Instead, once "Cosmic Boogie"'s crazed swirl of shuffling hip-hop basslines, dramatic steel string twanging, and dense jungle percussion simmers down, the guitarist lays back. Way back, into spacy, mystical ambient territory. All of this makes for a pleasant atmospheric listen, but falls short of that early promise; it's almost like Illenberger and his flute/sax partner Budi Siebert hope to make the listener part of a cool, sonic experiment rather than offer anything of lasting melodic value. The title to the sparsely arranged "Wide Open" captures the tune's floating meditations and Eastern gong simulations, as well as the graceful yet somewhat noodling acoustic guitar melody. Because the focus is so much on the production, the rhythmic base is often altered from piece to piece. The seven-minute ballad "Caveland" eases along, gently building little steam, but at least featuring more jungle percussion and subtle vibe harmonies. "Electric Storm" has a seductive trip-hop groove, while the nearly eight-minute closer "The Winged Isis" ends with what the whole album needs more of — some fiery rock guitar licks over a throbbing fretless bassline.


Genre: Pop

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Inspired by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, this German guitarist essentially taught himself to play from records, later adding Leo Kottke, J.S. Bach, and Keith Jarrett to his list of influences. Honing his chops in local dance bands, Illenberger graduated to concert dates and eventually released seven albums in Europe before signing with Narada Records in the U.S. His style is an...
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