UBI ZAA

By Derek Taylor from dusted
September 2016


Where does a bandleader go creatively after two dozen albums working within the same general framework? For Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge that question gets answered with Obi Zaa and the enlistment of the cornet of fellow traveler Kirk Knuffke. The pair struck up a friendship and musical partnership several years ago, recording a quartet record (Blui) of uncommon quality and performing on occasion in the ensuing interim. Knuffke’s long been a seeker of and collaborator with venerable improvisers. Dørge found an allied spirit in the trumpeter’s voraciously inclusive approach to music and an ideal means of energizing his ensemble. A concert date in Copenhagen in the fall of last year served as the occasion to document the alliance with a seven-piece iteration of the band in support.

Dørge’s New Jungle Orchestra has been a remarkably consistent entity over its 35+ year existence in terms of membership and output. Pianist Irene Becker and trombonist Kenneth Agerholm have graced the ranks since the early-1980s and a steadfast loyalty to Dørge’s vision is a trait shared by all of the players. Knuffke fits right in as the new recruit, embracing his stature as guest soloist without overstepping the role. Dørge stations himself frequently colorist rather than protagonist, allowing his varied compositions to guide his colleagues rather than any aggressive fretwork most of the time. It’s a role he shares with pianist Becker on the occasions when she opts for synthesizer over acoustic ivories.

Six of the nine pieces draw from the leader’s songbook with Becker contributing two more and another from the mind of Danish classical composer Egil Harder. “I Was Surprised to Know” pivots off the atmospheric confluence of electric guitar and synthesizer in a blend that seems a bit slight and diaphanous as an opener, particularly in comparison to the grand stakes of what comes after. The title piece traffics in Dørge’s common argot of African and European elements while Becker’s “I May Remember” features the group at its most lyrical as the composer glides through a gilded motif with Knuffke.

A street band cadence anchors Dørge’s “Ai Piedi Della Scala” in its opening minutes, priming audience ears for an accelerating guitar solo that follows with the horns expanding into Aylerian rhapsody in the final minutes and taking on powerful anthemic proportions. It’s an ecstatic direction that carries over into Becker’s ornate “Song for Ornette” with the horns still airborne and spiraling through a soaring theme. Martin Andersen’s pattering cymbals frame the skyward action as bassist Thommy Andersson holds a sturdy terrestrial pinion that prevents the band from losing their bearings. “Je Har En Angst” dials the drama back to a duet between Knuffke and Mygind’s dry branch soprano. Banke and Agerholm join first, followed by the rest of the band and a contrapuntal convergence of lines led by the former’s crying tenor carries the piece to a comparatively somber close.

A ripe, reverberating line from Andersson forms the spine of “Hugo at Bureso” first in isolation and then in an elastic call and response with the horns. Dorge picks out a fragmented blues, his notes eliding like aqueous runoff of melting icicles. Anderson’s once again the unsung asset, keeping a varied time and adding texture around the edges alongside Becker’s electronics as Knuffke makes the most of his requisite solo spot. Brisk and close-knit “The Enigmatic Reality of Time” works as penultimate piece and palate cleanser as the players collide and carom off each other around a whirling center sustained by Becker, Andersson and Andersen. The amount of explosive energy and velocity flirt with freedom, but the band works off a very clear schematic revealed fully when the horns drop away and leave Becker to a lovely solo reverie soon joined by Banke’s mournful clarinet.

Dørge does a decent job of tying the whole affair together with “Prelude to Eternity”, a tapestry of tone colors that begins as an extended feature for the dark sonorities of bass and bass clarinet before adding the other band members in short order. The remainder hinges on a series of spontaneous colloquies and the leader’s most impassioned and loquacious improvisation of the date. The lingering feeling is a one of a band both justified and revitalized.

Derek Taylor