UBI ZAA

Recorded in September 2015
Released in October 2016
Steeple Chase Records SCCD 31819


Tracks

  • 01
    I WAS SURPRICED TO KNOW (Pierre Dørge) 4:52
  • 02
    UBI ZAA (Pierre Dørge) 4:14
  • 03
    I MAY REMEMBER (Irene Becker) 7:45
  • 04
    AI PIEDI DELLA SCALA (Pierre Dørge) 10:18
  • 05
    SONG FOR ORNETTE (Irene Becker) 5:15
  • 06
    JEG HAR EN ANGST ( Egil Harder) 4:49
  • 07
    HUGO AT BURESØ (Pierre Dørge) 9:12
  • 08
    THE ENIGMATIC TIME OF REALITY (Pierre Dørge) 6:12
  • 09
    PRELUDE TO ETERNITY (Pierre Dørge) 10:25

Lineup



Notes

As with all things, the Jungle has changed.
In 1980, when the adventurous geomusical
explorer Pierre Dørge fi rst unloosed his New
Jungle Orchestra upon an unsuspecting public,
compact discs were still in the future, and
newly unveiled mobile phones could have
doubled as hand weights. When he began
layering the lessons of Ellington atop rhythms
and textures from West Africa – specifi cally
Gambia, where the kora (gourd harp) inspired
the spiky, staccato lines from Dørge’s guitar –
the world still had two Germanys, but three
billion fewer people. And when the New
Jungle Orchestra recorded its eponymously
titled debut for SteepleChase Records, the
animals that would inspire decades of Dørge
compositions and Jungle sounds – the zebras
and camels, the elephants and giraffes, the
Siberian tigers and Shanghai lions – existed
in far greater numbers than they do today.
Even as the world outside gets louder and
crueler, the Jungle has grown more introspective.
The band can still rollick and roll, of
course: Ubi Zaa contains plenty of the raucous
cries, meteoric fl ights, and witty incongruences
that have marked Dørge’s concept from
the start. And this ablest and most amiable of
safari leaders still has a few tricks up his sleeve,
some different paths he needs to explore. But
all in all, this is a gentler, quieter Jungle, fi lled
with nuanced sounds and deeper mysteries.

Central among those sounds is the cornet
of Kirk Knuffke, the latest addition to Dørge’s
musical caravan. The two fi rst recorded together
in late 2014, for Dørge’s quartet album
Blui. But they had met several years earlier,
in Copenhagen, where they shared their
mutual admiration for each other’s work. “So
in 2015,”
says Dørge, “when we had a tour
to celebrate the Orchestra’s 35th anniversary,
I invited Kirk to join us. I wanted to write new
music for this album that could feature Kirk’s
fantastic cornet playing; when he came into
the band, all the musicians responded to his
sound, even more than to the written music.”

(Speaking almost a year after that tour, Dørge
admits that “I’m still writing some lines where
I have his sound in my ears.”
)
“And I also decided that we would not
go into the studio, and this time do a live
recording – because in the studio you miss
the dimension of the audience. Even if they
are silent during a performance, you can still
feel very much that they are there”
– in this
case, the familiar confi nes of the Copenhagen
Jazz House, on September 26, as the tour was
winding down.
Listening to the recordings from that night
several months later, Dørge heard something
beyond the notes. “Somehow I found that the
music has my history in it, going way back to
the 60s. I can hear infl uences from then; it
contains melodies and sounds that all those
years ago went through my ears. Some Benny
Goodman, some Charlie Christian, and then
in the next moment Albert Ayler – because

when my friends and I had parties in the
60s, we would have Ayler’s album Ghosts
going, once on New Year’s Eve until 4 in the
morning. My music has always been like that,
a melting pot”
– effortlessly incorporating a
seemingly disparate range of infl uences, but
fi nding connections among them.
Perhaps the search for those connections
just naturally opens itself to the absurdist
literature, performance antics, and found
poetry that also hold Dørge in their thrall.
Take the opening track, which derived from
random phrases Dørge discovered in New
York newspapers while there to record Blui.
“There were some different sentences that I
wrote down into a poem, and then I put a
melody to this,”
he explains. “One sentence
was ‘I was surprised to know,’ which became
the title, and another phrase, ‘A dense swarm
of absence,’ sounded very absurd to my ears.
I had just come from the studio, recording
with Kirk, and thinking of his sound, I just
put these fragments together to make this
absurd melody for him to play.”
Knuffke’s
hooded statement stands against a halo of
guitar chords, shadowed by the bass clarinet;
then the other horns mirror the melody with
fragments of their own; “and from there the
melody goes out into nothingness.”

Absurdism – a staple within the Jungle –
also informs Ai Piedi Della Scala, inspired by
a 1948 Henry Miller book titled “The Smile
At The Foot Of The Ladder” (which the author
himself described as “the strangest story I have
yet written”). It too underlies Dørge’s fascination
with wordplay, as does the title track. An
irresistible return to early days in the Jungle,
Ubi Zaa was originally recorded by NJO
keyboardist Irene Becker on her album Magic
Mystery Moon
, where vocalist Aviaja Lumholt
sang the nonsensical lyrics. The words took
shape when Dørge fused Danish children’s
rhymes, in a technique similar to the Dadaist
sound poems he admires; the melody arose
from there. Another text from Danish literature
led to Jeg Har En Angst, composed by the 20thcentury
concert pianist Egil Harder – “not very
famous,”
Dørge allows, “although he wrote
several songs known throughout Denmark.”

For this one, Harder set to music a poem
about death by his countryman Hans Christian
Andersen;
Dørge’s arrangement portrays the
work’s anxiety in fi rmly modern terms.
Irene Becker holds center stage in Dørge’s
history – as spouse, musical collaborator, and
queen of the Jungle, having played piano in the
NJO from its inception. Her Song For Ornette
marks the impact that Ornette Coleman had
on both her and Dørge. As he explains: “Irene
wrote her university thesis on Ornette’s music
back in the early 1980s; and then, when we
fi rst went to Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio
[in upstate New York], Karl connected us to
Ornette, and that was a peak inspiration for
us both. So this comes from that meeting, and
the whole feeling we have for Ornette and his

music.” Becker’s other composition here, the
majestic I May Remember, derives from a text
by Emily Dickinson; her arrangement proceeds
incrementally to feature piano, cornet, guitar,
and fi nally the full band.
The lighthearted swing of Hugo At Buresø
captures the essence of the grand Danish
bassist Hugo Rasmussen, one more central
fi gure in Dørge’s life, who anchored the NJO
from 1984-2000 and who passed away shortly
before the recording of this album. “He lived
an hour outside Copenhagen, near this small
lake, named Buresø, where my parents had a
summer house. Irene and I would stay there
every August, and with my mother and aunt
and cousin, we would all go for a picnic by
the same lake where I fi rst learned to swim.
And every day Hugo would show up,”
he
recalls, smiling at the memory. “So this is like
a musical greeting to Hugo. There are some
bass licks reminiscent of his style, and also
some themes that remind me of his playing,
and some phrases that refer to Hugo’s life; the
whole song is inspired by what Hugo would
like. And then the horns are going out in space
and disappearing.”

Bittersweet memories give way to complicated
musings as the album comes to a close.
Dørge wrote The Enigmatic Reality Of Time
while thinking “of how we experience time,
the relativity of it. People say that one hour
for a child is very long, and for older people
it is very short; sometimes an hour can last
like a whole day, or a whole day like an hour.
And when you walk in the woods the fi rst
time, it feels longer than when you walk the
next time.” Along those lines, Prelude To
Eternity
stretches and shrinks the passage of
time by alternating thematic variations with
improvised sections. Masterfully conceived
and gorgeously instrumented – and borrowing
freely from European concert music, South
African jazz, Gambian folk music, and the
free-jazz tradition – it encapsulates the encyclopedic
openness that has always marked
music in the Jungle.
Some 35 years and 25 albums ago, that initial
NJO album shocked and delighted us with
its audacious spirit and splendiferous colors.
Much of that spirit remains. But where once
a musical carnival reigned – where the ghosts
of Monk, Ellington, Sun Ra, and the Gambian
griots riotously commingled and strutted – the
memories and lessons of a lifetime now stroll
and converse in rich contemplation.
As I said: the Jungle has changed.

Neil Tesser, June 2016

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