New Jungle Orchestra with Yusef Lateef - Operaen, July 4

By Ib Skovgaard from Pollitikken
July 2005

There are certain special moments in life when it all comes together into a higher synthesis. "It all rolls into one", as they say. In a certain way, everything becomes divine - if we understand the divine as something that is infinitely greater than the respective individuals who bring it forth.

With one exquisite word, it is known as 'apotheosis'. And this is a very suitable term for describing what 1,500 members of the audience played witness to inside the Opera House on Monday evening, when the ensemble that is simply 'beyond category', The New Jungle Orchestra, celebrated its 25-year anniversary with the American jazz legend, Yusef Lateef, as the featured guest star. The ensemble simultaneously blew away any whiff of highbrow arty-farty high-culture opera snobbishness from the polished floor of the stage in Henning Larsen's controversial edifice.

Before the guests started to migrate in and take their seats inside the beautiful opera hall, it did look a bit too much like some kind of culture-radical get together, where the whole lot of Copenhagen's cultural elite had apparently convened for the express purpose of experiencing the opera building from within - without being constrained to listen to opera.

But then, Lo and behold, musicians started to take their positions on the stage, one after the other. And they began to play what is literally the Jungle Orchestra's boundless world music ... and the mood shifted to intense empathy.

And when the concert was over, almost three hours later, the privileged listeners straggled back out into the Copenhagen summer evening, with a uniquely cosmo-political musical experience in their luggage.

The proceedings were ushered in by the Chinese harp player, Yu Jun. On the strings of her peculiar foreign instrument, she struck up the evening's opening notes. Then the band's pianist, Irene Becker, followed suit. After this, the bandleader Dørge entered the scene and gradually the rest of the steadfast ensemble fell in.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the musicians started to brew up their distinctive sound universe, right before our eyes and inside our ears.

With quiet restraint and tranquility, the music moved from an improvisation on Chinese themes over into a sequence that unified the whole world's musical expression and simultaneously concentrated all of jazz's history.

At certain times, the saxophone section sounded like a silver-wedding anniversary orchestra on acid. Other times, they sounded like the Salvation Army Band, which was busy burning the roof off the house with an extrapolation on theme by Duke Ellington.

And all the while, it was transpiring in an intimate dialogue with New Orleans roots. In walked the Greenlandish singer, Aviaja. She took her place on stage to sing "One Morning". With her wordless vocal, she brought forth moments of indescribable beauty.

The culmination of the first set, however, presented itself when the Gambian kora stylist, Dawda Jobarteh, appeared and sparked off a sequence that virtually conjured up the Creation itself, in all its incomprehensible immensity.

Now let me level with you: I was weeping. The experience was as beautiful as that! It was like being embraced by the whole human race, like watching a baby being born, like being told the meaning of life and being too enraptured to worry about having to remember it. Fantastic, it was quite simply fantastic!

After the intermission was over, Yusef Lateef appeared on stage. With his presence, the mood swung from the orgiastic life-affirming to a more contemplative, spiritual mode which, after introductory presentations of ethereal sound-surfaces opened itself up to all the heavens in an orchestral tour de force, which mixed hermetic bop sequences with all kinds of other expressions. Dizzy Gillespie meets Hans Werner Henze at an Arab market in a situational context where genres don't even make sense anymore and where Shakespeare's words, "If music be the food of love, play on", constitute the only sufficient comment.

The soon-to-be 85-year old Lateef cut a most impressive figure - first of all, for emanating a fantastic musical energy - even when he wasn't even playing - and secondly, for having preserved a majestic tone on his flute, as well as on his tenor saxophone and his oboe.

And the rest of the outfit played with an intensity and fervor and openness and fantasy and empathy and dexterity and humor and almost brazen love for the music, so that we couldn't do anything else but bow over into the dust of admiration and simply exclaim:

Thank you for a fantastic evening, where you showed us that openness is altogether not another expression for emptiness, but rather the exact opposite.

Well, does this have anything to do with jazz? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.