“Queen of Hearts” continues the inspired artistic leap that Jai Uttal, a pioneer of world music, first made with his delightful “Thunder Love” album in 2009, when he blended kirtan yoga chanting with Brazilian music.
This time the master San Anselmo musician-singer-composer takes traditional call-and-response kirtan and Brazilian samba and throws reggae and ska into the mix.
It’s a joyous concoction that announces itself with the very opening track, “Thief of Hearts” (Govinda, Govinda, Gopala). Who can resist devotional music with a horn arrangements, by Uttal and Jeff Cressman, worthy of Tower of Power?
A reggae fan since he was a teenager, Uttal expressed that influence in some of the groundbreaking music he made in the ’90s with his Pagan Love Orchestra, one of the first world music groups to introduce an East-meets-West sound to American audiences.
He’s been wanting to revisit reggae ever since, and says the eight tunes on “Queen of Hearts,” recorded at Old Bull studio in San Anselmo with co-producer by longtime collaborator Ben Leinbach, have been percolating inside him for years.
You can literally hear that percolation in the techno opening of “Ocean of Milk,” which breaks into an irresistible reggae groove as Uttal trades lines in Sanskrit with a breathy all-female backup chorus.
On the ethereal “Vishnu’s Dream,” he wraps his soulful voice in the warm harmony vocals of the exotic Tina Malia, a veteran of his Pagan Love Orchestra. Uttal studied under the great Ali Akbar Khan, which gives him hard-earned credibility. And if listeners notice an authenticity in the always excellent musicianship on “Queen of Hearts,” it’s no accident.
On the smooth Brazilian “Hari’s Rapture,” for example, Uttal had the good sense to anchor the track with the rhythmic nylon-string guitar work of Brazilian-born Jose Neto, one of Marin’s finest players. It’s one of many bright spots on a CD full of light.
Listen and Buy: “Queen of Hearts,” Jai Uttal, Nutone Music, www.jaiuttal.com/queenofhearts/; $14.98
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