01Lost in the Dessert, I See a Caravan
02St. Louis Blues
03Det Koster Ej For Megen Strid
04Ellingtonian Space is the Place
06Stranger than Jim
09Lions of Shanghai
By Paul Blair
Ellington won early prominence during the late Twenties when his jungle music band was resident at a single Harlem club over a period of several years. By contrast, Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra have won widespread acclaim by never staying in one place for very long. During 1993-96, they served as the official Danish State Ensemble – the first jazz orchestra ever to be thus honored. Over the last decade or so, NJO has dispensed joy from bandstands in Accra, Adelaide, Athens, Valencia, Vancouver, Bratislava, Buenos Aires, Singapore, Shanghai, Saskatoon and Tasmania. (Hey, you’ll find an even more exhaustive list at www.newjungleorchestra.com .) And as these notes are being written, NJO is delighting crowds at a weeklong arts gala in downtown Hanoi.
So after performance dates in such unlikely jazz hotspots as Siberia, Indonesia and the Gambia, how did Pierre and his cohorts end up in a venue as conventional as Birdland? It happened this way. In the course of the group’s seventh U.S. visit (and following an appearance at a world music festival in Chicago), NJO flew into New York for performances at Carnegie Hall and Columbia University – plus an evening at the West 44th Street club – as part of a multi-day arts festival called The Danish Wave.
Fortunately, the Birdland gig was recorded – and very well, too. All nine of these tracks will be familiar to hardcore New Jungle Orchestra admirers, since earlier versions of each have been featured on previous NJO CDs issued on labels like Olufsen, Enja, Dacapo, Steeplechase and Stunt. But this date deserves special attention because everything its fans love about this group – sparkling soloists, punchy ensembles, vivid tonal colors, rhythmic drive and generally high spirits – is on particularly vivid display.
Lost in the Desert I See a… / Caravan immediately plunges listeners into a maelstrom, with the leader’s arrangement pitting section against section as the excitement builds. A strong guitar solo leads to a bit of sparring with Jakob Mygind on tenor. The familiar Juan Tizol melody doesn’t fully emerge until nearly three minutes into the piece, although Lost (Pierre’s bass ostinato intro) suggests what’s to come. Kasper Tranberg, Irene Becker and Mads Hyhne all have their say before the things quiet down considerably. NJO’s first recording of this one (on a 1992 CD called “Karawane”) now sounds positively tame in comparison to what happened at Birdland one fine night seven years later.
Again, it takes a while for the contours of St. Louis Blues (recorded first by the band in 1984 on “Brikama” and then again on 1990’s “Live in Chicago”) to be completely revealed. After what sounds like a bit of competitive smooching, there’s some Latin vamping, a well-shaped Dørge solo, heartfelt opinions voiced by Agerholm, Mygind and Tranberg, an intriguing ensemble passage and an impressionistic piano interlude which leads quite naturally into the next track.
The music for Det koster ej for megen strid , notes Pierre, was written by Carl Nielsen, Denmark’s best-known composer, early in the last century. “But few Nielsen scholars seem to be familiar with it,” he adds. “In fact, we discovered it quite by accident some years ago in an old songbook during a Christmas visit to Irene’s mother’s home. And Morten Carlsen isn’t playing a soprano saxophone here. Instead, it’s his taragot, an instrument common in Hungarian and Romanian folk music. The taragot is tricky to play because the pitch and intonation tend to change from room to room and from day to day, so you can never predict exactly how it’s going to sound. Maybe that’s why Morten loves soloing on it!” (By the way, there’s a somewhat different – but equally evocative – treatment of the same piece on “Music from the Danish Jungle,” a 1996 NJO release.)
In asserting that Ellingtonian Space is the Place (subsequently recorded as a studio version for “Zig Zag Zimfoni”), Pierre slyly hints at Things Ain’t What they Used to Be . An on-the-edge Carlsen tenor solo flows into a complex and joyous ensemble passage that really struts. And doesn’t this ten-member band sound far larger at this point? Following a rather unexpected modulation, Agerholm provides trombone fills and Mygind speaks his mind. After a beautifully conceived diminuendo, Hugo Rasmussen’s bass takes it out.
The Mooche moves things even more obviously into ducal territory. Pierre, Jakob and Kasper solo, with an invigorating two-beat pulse behind them. (For alternate takes of this classic, check out versions on the 1985 album “Even the Moon is Dancing,” as well as the Chicago CD, with Irene Becker doing some lovely work on electronic keyboards.)
So who’s the Jim being celebrated in Stranger Than Jim (first heard on the 1998 CD entitled “Giraf”)? It’s the film director – one of Pierre’s favorites – whose last name is Jarmusch. Bent Clausen’s crisp brushwork opens the proceedings. Hugo takes a powerful solo with the band chanting behind him. As the leader’s guitar takes over, the tension builds still further. Capping the performance is some truly astounding ensemble work.
NJO has recorded Irene’s Monkey Forest, redolent of Bali, twice before: on “Different Places, Different Bananas” in 1988 and on the Chicago album two years later. Ghanaian-born percussionist Ayi Solomon (an NJO member since 1984, when he arrived in Copenhagen with a touring reggae band) is turned loose on this one. Things conclude with Pierre soaring over an ensemble passage so powerful you’d swear they sneaked an extra half-dozen musicians onto the Birdland bandstand.
Ellington’s appealing harmonies make Black Beauty (also heard on “Karawane”) a real treat. Hugo limns the melody. Morten unlimbers his taragot once again, Agerholm, Mygind and Hyhne solo, with Kenneth handling the growl work further on. Then Clausen brings all this fox-trotting to a conclusion with a perfectly placed truncated cymbal.
NJO loyalists will already have heard Lions of Shanghai on the 1997 CD called “China Jungle.” Carlsen, on tenor this time, is followed by Hyhne and Tranberg. Toward the end, a melody with a Chinese character does indeed emerge. Then following a quiet moment featuring cornet plus bass, the whole band lopes toward a highly satisfying conclusion.
As you might guess, this is no casually thrown-together pickup band. Several members (Carlsen, Agerholm, Becker and Clausen) have actually been members since the first NJO album was released on Steeplechase in 1982, with Hugo joining soon thereafter. Mads Hyhne is the newcomer, having been aboard for a mere four years at the time of this Birdland date. (Incidentally, if you’re uncertain about how to wrap your tongue around various of these Danish names, you may properly regard Pierre’s post-set credits as authoritative.)
New Jungle Orchestra is a band that travels lean but never mean. What’s more, their enthusiasm is highly contagious. Best of all, they’re doubtless coming soon to a jungle near you .Back