May 2009 Issue
Over the past two decades, modern kirtan (chanting) master Jai Uttal has released a series of stellar albums offering a unique mix of devotional chant, world music, folk, funk, and more. Uttal’s latest, Thunder Love, with its generous serving of irresistible Brazilian rhythms and a pinch of country blues, is his most fully realized work since 2001’s Mondo Rama.

Working with longtime collaborator Ben Leinbach, composer Bill Laswell, guest vocalists including the Chicago Children’s Choir, and members of his Pagan Love Orchestra, Uttal has produced a versatile set that lends itself by turns to a vigorous asana practice, a swingin’ dance party, or an intimate evening for two. Yet it also includes soaring hymns of spiritual aspiration and heartfelt expressions of unfettered desire. In fact, one of the subtler achievements of the songs here is the way they blur physical and spiritual longing. And it’s a great surprise to hear how naturally a mantra like Bhavani shankara dances to a Brazilian beat.

As on Uttal’s previous albums, the arrangements and ensemble performances here are pitch perfect. And his vocals are soulful, unrestrained, intensely emotive, and melodic. –Phil Catalfo