New Jungle Orchestra's music is jazz in its most hybrid and entertaining form

When a band from Denmark with a base of jazz sees inspiration in the language of elephants on one hand, Bollywood (Monsoon Wedding, for example) on another and tweaks them with influences from West Asia and Africa and music by an Indian flautist, variety and range become tangible and surprises expected. New Jungle Orchestra, led by veteran conductor-guitarist Pierre Dorge, recently undertook a tour of Indian cities, including the Capital, collaborating with Indian flautist Shashank Subramanyam.

New Jungle Orchestra (NJO) is exactly three decades old – existing since 1980. Besides Pierre, it comprises his wife Irene Becker (piano and synthesiser ), Gunnar Halle (trumpet), Kasper Tranberg (trumpet), Morten Karlsen (taragot, tenor saxophone), Jacob Mygind (tenor and soprano saxophone), Anders Banke (clarinet and bass clarinet), Kenneth Agerholm (trombone), Thommy Andersson (bass) and Ayi Solomon (conga, percussion). The group's music is a synthesis of Asian, African and European traditions with jazz and even that is chameleon-like.

Specifically, their composition ‘Whispering Elephants', the above-mentioned track based on elephants, has been much appreciated, we are told. One understands why. Dominated by Irene Becker on the synthesiser , the composition alternates between the joyous trumpeting of elephants, moments of sudden quiet and ominous beats that suddenly remind you of wildlife documentaries on animals under threat.

‘Munzun Mun', the Bollywood-inspired number, almost starts off with a bandwallah's trumpet , flowing seamlessly into jazz in a way one would have not thought possible.

“A very important thing in our music is we like to interact and meet people, try and understand different cultures' music. It's like meeting different food from the world. When I was younger, I would try mixing styles that were difficult to combine,” says Pierre, who idolises legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington.

On the journey till the present and the group's parallel evolution, he says, “It has always been in progress. We're trying to search new fields, new inspirations, which sometimes comes from new musicians in the orchestra.”

While four among its members have been with it since the beginning, others have been joining in or moving on.

New Jungle Orchestra has also been part of the Danish State ensemble, where it toured along with the Danish royal family on their State visits. “We performed for Nelson Mandela with South African jazz musicians. In Tokyo, we performed for the Japanese Emperor,” he recalls. “We play to a wide variety of audience – it could be at the Carnegie Hall one day and for a youth festival on another.”

New Jungle Orchestra performed with Shashank at Copenhagen's Royal Playhouse and the audio is out on a CD brought out by SteepleChase. While NJO has collaborated with other musicians too, be it those from Vietnam or a gong ensemble from Indonesia, Shashank has previously worked with John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.

Indian music, especially, has begun to play a major part in NJO's music. “I had never heard Indian music. Then in 1965, I heard Pandit Ravi Shankar in Copenhagen,” says Pierre.

“At a recent concert, when our Summer song was played, the audience said it sounded exactly like Indian music!”

At their last three concerts, besides Shashank, NJO had an Indian percussionist on board as well.

Belonging to a more inclusive genre of music where musicians want to feel one with the audience, Pierre says, “We're really trying to get the audience involved. We like it when the audience guide the concert through their vibe.”

Pierre, now, is trying to compose something special for each instrument in the ensemble, something that was also considered Ellington's forte. (Incidentally, it was during Ellington's era that the whole concept of ‘jungle' jazz came into being.) “Next year, maybe a theatre piece with a famous director,” Pierre reveals.