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Spirit Room

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Album Review

A lot of artists and producers from Madonna to Mitchell Froom have incorporated Eastern influences and instrumentation such as Sanskrit lyrics, harmoniums, and tablas into their work. Jai Uttal, however, pretty much goes the other way around and spices up Eastern music with Western flavors — jazz in particular. His heart is one of devotion to his chosen spiritual path and this is how he expresses that love — through the music of his combined traditions. Yes, the emotions expressed could be construed as those of a romantic, but Uttal's beloved exists in another realm. It is not a lesser infatuation or yearning, just a different spin that westerners are not quite accustomed to. No matter, he's been at it for years and Spirit Room is a retrospective, a collection of some of the finer moments from his previous releases: Shiva Station, Beggars and Saints, Monkey, and Footprints. It's a veritable grab bag of and a good introduction to his work. As expected, a number of the tunes are traditional Indian prayers that Uttal has arranged to suit his needs. And as Uttal has perfected this style, it's easy for, say, Don Cherry's trumpet to ride alongside Fazal Qureshi's tablas or Jerry Watts to lay down a bass groove under Lakshmi Shankar's soaring vocals. Perhaps the number of Eastern music fans will follow the upsurge of hatha yoga practitioners. Bring 'em on — Uttal is ready.


Genre: World

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Jai Uttal has played Motown songs in cover bands and busked for change on the streets. Both of those experiences have stood him in good stead for his musical career, which finds his music straddling the divide between world and new age. Born in New York City in 1952, Uttal grew up in the music business -- his father worked for a record label -- and at the age of seven he began piano lessons. Those were followed by banjo, guitar, and harmonica as Uttal began to discover American roots music, most...
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Spirit Room, Jai Uttal
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