Jai Uttal and Ben Leinbach: Music for Yoga and Other Joys


By J. Poet  |  

Sounds True; www.soundstrue.com.

Jai Uttal has always had a broad musical vision. His first album, Footprints, was a groundbreaking fusion of pop, rock, jazz, and classical Indian music, but it took years of experimentation before he was able to forge a sound he was comfortable with. While some have dubbed Uttal—who’s a guitarist, vocalist, and composer—a master of world music, he rejects the sobriquet in favor of a more modest description as a “pop musician influenced by the folk music of India.”

On Music for Yoga and Other Joys, a collaboration with his longtime producer, multi-instrumentalist Ben Leinbach, the Indian influence predominates, but not without the personal touches for which Uttal is renowned. “Nataraja,” a piece perfect for deep meditation, features subtle percussion that mimics the beating of a restful heart, accented by what sounds like Balinese gongs and whispered vocals. “Surya” would also be good for meditation or asana practice; it’s built around a sitar alap (introductory passage) marked by slow, measured notes and minimal singing, as is “Govinda,” which features a synthesizer playing notes that sound like they come from a glass harp. “Gopala” has a more devotional quality, with multi-tracked guitar drones, soft bansuri fills (by Manose) and a booming bass you can feel as much as hear. The only anomalous track is “Mahadeva,” which features a banjo melody that resembles “Sowing on the Mountain” (an old-time hymn about salvation and damnation) and a flurry of percussion, bass, and vocals; it’s a bit busy for a meditative practice but probably perfect for kirtan (chanting).

J. Poet writes about pop music and culture for Paste, Harp, Grammy.com, and many other publications and Web sites. He lives in San Francisco with his partner and his CD collection.