fun found off the beaten path

Jodoji Brightness (Antilles)
Peter Apfelbaum and the Hieroglyphics Ensemble
Monkey (Triloka)
Jai Uttal featuring the Pagan Love Orchestra

By John Goodin

Are you one of those people who claim to listen to "all kinds of music?" Here's a chance to put your ears to the test. For my money, these are two of the finest recordings of 1992, but what kind of music they are is a tricky question.

Peter Apfelbaum's Hieroglyphics Ensemble features Jai Uttal and Uttal's Pagan Love Orchestra features Apfelbaum on most cuts. Along with this connection, both recordings have in common a love of musical freedom and a deeply spiritual quality.

Jodoji Brightness is the jazzier, noisier funkier and more ambitious of the two -- lots of "outside" soloing, lots of wonderfully loose horn ensembles playing vaguely Middle Eastern lines, lots of strong funky rhythms. Apfelbaum solos on tenor sax but is the composer more than the star. Most of the Ensemble's fifteen stars are featured on at least one tune. There's an interesting recitation of a Dylan Thomas poem set to catchy Mahavishnu-style jazz-rock music. There's part of a piece commissioned by the Kronos Quartet played by violin, guitar, clarinet, bassoon and ankle bells. Apfelbaum's vision is broad, serious and friendly, and his Ensemble does a beautiful job of making it come to life.

Uttal's Monkey is a subtler, perhaps more personal expression. The same sense of freedom prevails, but things are more arranged, and there are fewer rough edges. The style is a little narrower also. This music is mostly an Indian classical-jazz fusion with Uttal playing instruments like the dotar and sarod along with guitar and harmonium. Four of the ten tunes are songs where Uttal displays a nice voice very much like that of Steve Winwood. As a matter of fact, Traffic's "Paper Sun" wouldn't be at all out of place on Monkey.

Apfelbaum plays drums on the instrumental tunes and helps them achieve some of the special quality that infuses Jodoji Brightness. The title track is especially appealing, with a nice modal to major shift in the tune and fine solos over a relaxed groove.

If you're looking for a little adventure, a little exotica, something off the beaten path, check these two out. These are real musicians following their hearts looking for listeners interested in all kinds of music.