Fairfax, CA – World music and Kirtan superstar Jai Uttal released his 19th album last Friday, to great acclaim, live interviews on KPFA in Northern California and KPFK in Southern California, and a stock out on Amazon due to overwhelming demand! Jai is also looking forward to release concerts March 11 at Wanderlust Hollywood and March 18 at Spirit Rock in Marin County. Later in the year Uttal will also headline the popular Joshua Tree yoga festivals Shakti Fest in May and Bhakti Fest in September.
Of the album, LA Yoga says “There’s no way to sit still as this music plays and it’s easy to see how the live concerts Jai will perform in celebration of this collection will go down as unforgettable.” And Whole Life Times notes “Reggae and Samba fans will rejoice with Roots, Rock Rama!” Common Ground raves “This spectacular DBL CD is a journey through the splendors, riches and tribulations of the India sub-continent, musically, spiritually and globally. Jai Uttal has reigned over the Nor Cal kirtan/chant scene for three decades. His musical monarchy has been a rollicking, beneficent parade of high energy and sacred spirit through 18 albums and countless live shows. While kirtan is not a ‘musical genre’, Jai has infused his world vision with an amalgam of reggae, blues, Indian and Beatles-inspired pop music. All of these have come together on his celebratory Roots, Rock, Rama! — an ultra-dynamic raise the roof high and open the heart wide offering.”
Clearly named after Bob Marley’s classic track “Roots Rock Reggae,” this project does celebrate the influence that reggae had on Uttal’s interpretation of classic Indian ragas. However, the title also refers to the practice of kirtan as the root of his life, the rock that is his foundation, and his devotion to Rama (God) throughout his work.
Kirtan is a call and response singing style popular with yoga practitioners who are now over 36 million strong in the US! Jai is a favorite performer on the growing yoga festival circuit, playing to thousands each summer at Bhakti Fests and other events. He also leads his own workshops and retreats that deepen yogis practice of the heart based Bhakti yoga method that is chanting the names of god to further enlightenment.
Co-produced with Uttal in 2016 by noted Northern California producer Ben Leinbach, the album is a double CD/extra-long stream with 12 5-12 minute tracks for about 80 minutes of music (typical of Kirtan, but also of that other NorCal staple – jam music!). CD 1 or the first 6 tracks are “Rama Sun” and are the more reggae influenced tracks – deeply steeped in earthy rhythms, hypnotic bass lines, jubilant horn charts and soulful vocal harmonies. CD 2, the next 6 tracks are “Rama Moon” and find Uttal in an entirely different mood. Grounded in the gentle, lilting sway of Brazilian samba, it also touches on the pastoral splendor of the more acoustic tracks from the Beatles’ White Album. The Beatles are another major influence, and Jai has brought their pioneering fusion of Indian music and Western pop into the 21st century.
With a unique boomer upbringing in the NYC music biz of the 50s and 60s (as a child he was at the session where Mitch Ryder recorded “Devil With a Blue Dress”!) Uttal understands true musicianship and has worked with top musicians including Bill Laswell, Don Cherry, and his musical guru Ustad Ali Akbar Khan throughout his career.
Additionally, his story flows with that of his generation – in the 70s he studied with Khan in the Bay Area while making extended trips to the Indian Ashram of Neem Karoli Baba the same guru who influenced Ram Dass’ classic Be Here Now. Maharajji, as the guru is known to his students, encouraged the practice of bhakti (devotional) yoga as expressed through kirtan, the call-and-response chanting of sacred names, over and over again until they become deeply instilled in the consciousness, providing an experience of profound peace and spiritual insight. Kirtan would become the center of Jai’s musical and spiritual life.
The 80s were dedicated to his music career which took off in 1990 with his first album Footprints that featured Don Cherry and other notables, launching him into the exploding world music scene. Now, eighteen albums, marriage, fatherhood, a Grammy nomination, and 26 years of worldwide acclaim later Roots! Rock! Rama! will continue his legacy.
On Roots! Rock! Rama!, he is joined by many noted players including guitarist Steve Postell, horn master Jeff Cressman, vocalist Tina Malia, and many others. The Rio flavor on “Rama Moon” was driven by noted Brazilians – producer/guitarist Jose’ Neto and world-class percussionist Café de Silva.
The album opens with the first track of Rama Sun, “R.A.S.A. (Radha’s Art of Celestial Amour)” an interpretation of a classic Indian raga celebrating Radha’s love for Krishna that features horns from Uttal’s longtime brass section of Cressman and NorCal sax fave Peter Apfelbaum. The album’s title track is up next and continues the reggae and horn vibe with supportive Kirtan signing worthy of the I-Threes from Malia, Sandy Cressman, and Prajna Vieira. “Raga Rocksteady” starts slow with a classic chant that builds up over its 11+ minutes to an ecstatic Kirtan throw-down.
“H.A.R.I. (Hari Awakens Radha’s Incandescence)” features the Bollywood magic of the Melodious Strings of Mumbai, led by cellist Jake Charkey. Thanks to modern digital technology, they were able to contribute their parts without leaving India, where they are based. “Primordial Swamp Beat” takes it low with Uttal’s longtime bass collaborator Mark Gorman, and even the Kirtan responses are deepened with Gaura Vani’s vocals. The Rama Sun CD ends as many of Uttal’s live appearances do, with his high-energy performance of “H.E.L.P. (Hari’s Ecstatic Love Potency),” a classic Krishna chant mashed up with The Beatles “Help.”
The Rama Moon CD starts with “S.R.I. R.A.M. (Supersonic Rescue Intervention Radiant Atomic Mantra)” that features the gentle cadences of samba and other Brazilian beats. “Heart of the Gopis” brings devotion with a vaguely Fleetwood Mac vibe, while going a bit Sgt. Pepper at the end. “Madhava Mystic” recalls “True Colors”, both songs ultimately about love. “Saudades de Radha” transports the Corcovado vibe from Rio to Varanasi and back to California on a wave of Randy Sutton’s vibraphone.
The first video from the album for “S.A.M.B.A. (Shiva’s Adoration of Mata Bhavani’s Ambrosia),” is coming soon (check out the video teaser at https://youtu.be/KhuW-da6HP0)! The song, co-written by Jose’ Neto continues the Brazilian/Indian/American trip courtesy of de Silva’s masterful percussion. The album ends with “Echo of Mercy (Om Namo Narayana), the classic Om Namo chant, bringing this exciting musical journey to a close. It all adds up to a two-CD album that’s vast in scope and deeply rooted in the ardor of devotion.