Ambient music is an exciting field as it continues to grow and change, and one of the main musicians pushing ambient by using mostly acoustic instrumentation over the course of nine albums during the past decade is Nathan Speir. His latest is Part of a Kindly Plan, which uses piano, acoustic guitars, cello, wood-flute, harmonica and percussion to achieve his soft, delicate, meditative sound (OK, he uses a tiny bit of synth strings in the background on a couple numbers). Not all the instruments appear on each tune. He mixes and matches -- piano and cello sometimes, piano and guitar on others, guitar and flute on “Praxis,” percussion here and there (he apparently tapped the cello fretboard with his open hand on “Praxis” to get a rhythmic drum-like sound).
It sounds like Speir starts with improvisational ideas, but then he overdubs himself on other instruments to craft and create warm, multi-layered pieces that have depth and dimension (I especially like his piano-harmonica duet on “Open Ranges”). The opening number, and later “Passing Charcoal Clouds,” are the most upbeat tunes. The rest would rank from fairly-slow to slow making the recording ideal for meditation, relaxation, healing, massage therapy and other “time-outs” from our busy days.
It just shows you that even a genre such as ambient, that really began to be identified as such in the 1980s, has the ability to push its boundaries and is not now restricted to just synthesizer sounds thanks to artists such as Nathan Speir who show us how we can get the same pleasure and enjoyment out of ambient music even when it is primarily created using acoustic instruments.