MUSICSCAN: The Shashank-Jungle Orchestra combo did not maul Carnatic music.

“Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Royal Danish Embassy cordially invite you to a ‘Jazz Programme’ by Pierre Dorge & New Jungle Orchestra from Denmark with Flute Maestro Shashank.... at Satguru Gnanananda Auditorium Narada Gana Sabha...”

From ICCR's invitation card (and matching ads) one had gained the impression that this was going to be one of those ever-increasing experiments in Indo-foreign ‘fusion’ music, which usually have a way of raising intricate questions concerning traditional and modern cultural and artistic values.

When such a context involves Carnatic musicians, whether they are famous or unknown, the main concern of conservative critics is whether it undermines any of the traditional forms in which our sacred classical music is performed, or the exercise is only meant to add some Carnatic colours to classical or modern forms of foreign music.

We do justifiably resist the former type of ‘fusion' music as a dangerous trend, but we usually have no objections in the latter event -- and sometimes we may even like what we hear!

Since maestro Shashank has been projecting a strong image as an authentic Carnatic musician from the time he was young enough to be known as ‘Master Shashank’, one was naturally anxious to see what this encounter was going to mean in terms of any dilution of his moral and artistic commitment to his musical heritage.

Only a few weeks ago, he had given a marvellous performance of Carnatic music at Hamsadhwani, and one couldn't help wondering what exactly he was going to do this time.

The New Jungle Orchestra of Denmark -- which consists of ten musicians playing the guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophones, clarionet, keyboard and drums -- derives its intriguing name from its founder-leader and guitarist Pierre Dorge's fascination for some of Duke Ellingtopn's jazz imitating animal sounds. Accordingly, some of the themes it projects convey weird zoological impressions, such as the number 'Whispering Elephants' featuring the trumpet and some other instruments.

Melting pot of sounds

But actually the orchestra's full repertoire has far wider scope than that, and seeks to incorporate into American and European jazz, the colours and nuances of different musical systems and cultures prevailing in mutually distant parts of the world, especially Africa, China, Indonesia, Turkey, and India. The orchestra has toured extensively all over the world, Antarctica being the only continent not figuring in its log-book -- but one wouldn't be surprised if they start playing a number called 'Penguins' Paradise' next, wherever they go!

And, as we found out during the concert under review, Shashank's association with this versatile orchestra didn't mean that there was a specific programme for concocting a hybrid 'Indo-jazz idiom' by mixing up various elements of Indian and other musical systems and traditions. Rather, it seemed more like Shashank participating in many of the team's usual excursions as a guest member, naturally adding some subtle Indian colours to the music with his simple-looking but highly sophisticated bamboo flutes.

Well, perhaps quite inevitably, a couple of numbers — composed by Pierre Dorge and Shashank — did aim to highlight the elements of Indian music forcefully; but these were just pleasing exercises which didn't do any violence to Carnatic music.

To be quite specific, there was no attempt to take up any sacred songs of our great composers and tear them up like lions mauling men in a Roman arena.