Reviewed Oct. 8, 1997.
The unique hybrid of world music Jai Uttal creates with his Pagan Love Orchestra is remindful of a restaurant that offers cuisines from several different continents: As tasty as it can get, it almost always lacks an emotional center.
Much of what Uttal and his septet perform is engaging and melodic, an easily digestible melange of styles as disparate as Pakistani qawwali music, Jamaican reggae and ska, Indian rai and American smooth jazz. In the first five minutes of his show, which emphasized music from his fourth Triloka/Mercury disc, “Shiva Station,” Uttal vocally aped a cantor, established a drone with an Indian harmonium and broke the hypnotic nature of his melody with a muted trumpet solo.
Uttal, a Gotham native who performs a variety of string instruments and early on studied with classical Indian masters and performed with street musicians in Bengal, sings in Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali and English. Sometimes it sounds like gibberish and other times as if it were lifted from a Hare Krishna text, yet it never penetrates with the conviction of the singers he emulates.
The Pagan Love Orchestra is an adept bunch, convincing in settings that echo devotional music as well as street-savvy dance rhythms. The band’s heavy use of the trombone is occasionally at odds with the gentleness of the other instrumentation, but it’s the heart of the lightness and buoyancy that keeps Uttal’s audience coming back for more. Two dancers, one of which was a stunningly graceful contortionist, added to the arresting visuals.