Despite featuring an extraordinary cast of musicians (with credits including Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Miles Davis, Santana, Stevie Wonder, Milton Nascimento and much more) and selling hundreds of thousands of albums, the music of Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors remains largely unheard beyond their sphere. Conceived as live, improvised soundtracks to Roth’s transcendental dance workshops, musical acclaim was never on the agenda.
Instead, for a passionate dancer and spiritual polyglot like Gabrielle Roth, movement was a means through which to channel a wide spectrum of teaching, from experimental psychology to psychedelic counter-culture. It was from this heady mix that she devised a movement meditation known as 5Rhythms, which came to define her life’s work.
As “guide and catalyst”, Roth would dance to inspire the percussion-led instrumentals that would in turn fuel her 5Rhythms workshops, stimulating a secular form of ecstatic dance with roots in Native American shamanic traditions, Afro-Brazilian Candomblé and Yoruba drumming.
Using anything from a Sioux pony drum to East African kihembe and Japanese Kabuki drums, Gabrielle’s lawyer-turned-drummer husband Robert Ansell set the foundational rhythms for The Mirrors’ recordings, each of which would then feature a rotating cast of friends and professional musicians.
“The secret of everything we’ve done is that we never told anybody what to play,” Robert shares. “Instead of our albums being a musical vision of one person like me or Gabrielle, they were the musical vision of a whole bunch of people.”
At times the recordings have a Middle Eastern flair, at others, West African and spiritual jazz modes come to the fore. Hints of kosmische musik, proto-house and electronic ambience are laced like LSD through the organic rhythmic structures. This was kaleidoscopic ambient music to stir the body and free the mind.
In practice, the task of synthesising these different elements fell to Scott Ansell, Robert’s son and a recording engineer whose credits now include Nile Rogers, Duran Duran, Grace Jones. With meticulous attention to detail he captured and translated the dynamic energy of each drum onto record. Their sessions became legendary, and with access to the best studios in the NYC, The Mirrors sparkled.
Despite being initially overlooked by the burgeoning ‘80s New Age market, which preferred pipes and gongs to The Mirrors’ heavy-grooving drums, Robert Ansell set up Raven Recording to self-release the music, creating a vast sonic archive of sixteen albums over almost forty years.
The breadth of Raven’s catalogue is such that curator Pol Valls had to cut an initial selection of sixty-six tracks down to the eleven featured here. What crystallises is a stunning, mind-altering collection which spans, in Pol’s words, “a variety of genres, styles, and vibes within their catalogue, whether it is emotional, esoteric, spiritual, melancholic, hypnotic, dark, or at times a combination of these elements together.”
Music for immersive and intimate environments, Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors were born from the dance. In the hands of the right DJ, at the right time, in the right place, they might just return there.