at the royal playhouse

Recorded in July 2008
Released in September 2009
SteepleChase Records SCCD 31693



Henrik Palle / Politiken (Danish)
Kjeld Frandsen / Berlingske Tidende (Danish)


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  • Josefine Cronholm (vocal)
  • Shashank Subramanyam (indian flutes)
  • Dawda Jobarteh (vocal & kora)


Two months after the spanking new, modernistic
Royal Playhouse was opened beside the harbour
in wonderful Copenhagen, Pierre Dørge and the
New Jungle Orchestra became the first musical
group to play the venue, as part of the Danish
capital’s jazz festival. No better band could
have been chosen for this honour as the NJO,
soon to celebrate its thirtieth year, is an
international brand, known and loved around
the globe.
Tickets were sold out in advance for every
one of the 700 seats, and for such a significant
event for the band, audience and local
community, Dørge prepared a special
programme of music featuring three special
guests from Sweden, India and the Gambia.
From just across the Sound in Sweden came
singer Josefine Cronholm, whose talent had
been spotted by Pierre when he gave an open
music course at Copenhagen Conservatory. He
had also been impressed by a recording of
standards that she made with Django Bates.
Dørge reached back ten years into his past in
an effort to find Indian flute player Shashank
Subramanyam, whom he had also met in
Copenhagen when the young man was giving a
master class in Indian music at the jazz
conservatory. In the intervening decade
Shashank had become his country’s leading
classical flautist, recording with guitarist John
McLaughlin, and many of the top players in his
own country.
Tracking down Shashank proved difficult,
and it took Pierre six months to locate him,
working through the Internet. They were then
able to bridge the vast distance by rehearsing
the music together via sound and vision Internet
links. Another vital piece of the jig-saw was in
place. Shashank arrived in Denmark the day
before the concert.
The third concert guest was Gambian Dawda
Jobarteh, a virtuoso on the West African kora
instrument which has a long neck running into
a gourd with rings made of antelope hide and
strings that are actually fishing lines. Dørge says
the kora is the African equivalent of a piano,
although its sound is closer to the harp. Jobarteh
is also a singer, who contributes the main vocal
to “Fode Kaba”.
The trio of guests from different continents
were added to the usual NJO line-up of trumpet,
trombone, two saxophones, guitar, keyboard,
bass and two percussionists in a recital that
stretched over two sets, but without the luxury
of ample rehearsal. Indeed, there was time for
only one get-together, the day before the concert,
and Pierre was worried about how it would all
go over on the night.
“It’s like having no security net underneath.
So there has to be concentration, but you also
take chances and mostly I’ve been lucky in that
kind of situation. I was this time, too. There are
always difficulties with location recordings
because musicians move around, drop things
and are sometimes off the microphone. At this
concert something went wrong with the
recording equipment on the second set, so
actually almost everything on the CD is from the
first set,” Pierre explained.
“The concert was filmed and the idea was to
make a promotional DVD. It was some months
before I listened to the tapes and to my surprise,
despite all the problems and doubts that I had
about the quality of the music, it sounded good.
And then Nils Winther got to work and cleaned
up the tapes to achieve very acceptable results.
I’m so happy with the way that he was able to
improve the overall sound and compensate for
deficiencies in the original balance.”
The concert was held a month before NJO
went into the SteepleChase studio to record
their CD, entitled “Whispering Elephants” which
also included versions of the title track and
“Malam Lagu”, both of which appear here in
original and therefore slightly embryonic guise.
The arrangement of “Whispering Elephants”
was modified for the studio take, and the concert
performance of “Malam Lagu” includes a vocal.
The leader’s composition Mbizo Mbizo is a
dedication to the late Johnny Dyani, a South
African bassist, who was a member of NJO from
1982 until his death four years later. Dyani’s
nickname was “Mbizo” which means
“togetherness”. In this piece Pierre recalls
fragments of songs that were important to Dyani.
“It’s a sort of South African anthem and at the
end we chant ‘do you see a rainbow over the
bamboo forests.’” There is piquant interplay
between saxophonist Morten Carlson and
Dørge’s guitar before Cronholm’s very sensitive
vocal. Trombonist Kenneth Agerholm’s
ruggedness reminds of the great Bill Harris.
Jobarteh’s kora adds cute touches, and trumpeter
Kasper Tranberg and tenorist Jakob Mygind
contribute powerfully. Note how Irene Becker’s
synthesizer combines with the kora, and
Josefine’s return in scatting mood.
Fode Kaba is a traditional Mandinka tribe
anthem. Kaba was a noted storyteller, a legendary
figure in the tribe’s history. It was arranged by
Pierre, who first heard the melody when he
visited the Gambia in 1982. The kora is once
again in evidence in the introduction, and the
lead vocal is also by Jobarteh with responses by
Dørge and, later, chants by the whole band. The
instrumental chorus gradually swells as the
hypnotic performance progresses, and then
slowly fades, leaving Jobarteh and his kora with
the last words and notes.
Swaralaya, written by Subramanyam, is
announced by the composer on bass flute before
he hastily switches to the higher pitched Indian
flute in a controlled display. Thommy
Andersson’s bass sets up an ascending vamp for
the flute improvisation that follows, as the band
provides a richly textured ensemble background.
Percussive and synth effects loom large. The
Tranberg trumpet darts about with daring runs
and shares in tasty duetting with the flute.
Jeg Gik Mig Ud En Sommerdag is a Dørge
arrangement of a Danish folk song that he first
heard as a child. The lyrics relate that “I went out
on a summer’s day to hear the birds and
nightingales in the deep woods”, but there is
also a romantic element in the story. “It is a
bittersweet little story, and unusually for Danish
songs this one is written in the minor,” says
Pierre. “I found this quite remarkable to hear the
Danish words sung with a Swedish accentSCCD 31693
accompanied by a Gambian kora player and an
Indian flute player. This is what I like doing all
the time, mixing elements.” In fact Dørge’s
setting of the piece suggests Middle Eastern
influences, and there is even a phrase that is the
opening to the traditional English carol “God
Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”. Listen for the
unusual melding of taragot, kora and flute.
Whispering Elephants in this initial treatment
makes interesting use of electronic sounds from
the synthesizer - something of a tour de force for
Pierre’s wife and musical collaborator of more
than 30 years, Irene Becker, who doubles on
piano. The composition is an ode to the elephants
of the world, and the threat to their survival due
to man’s cruelty and irresponsibility.
Malam Lagu, written by Irene Becker, was
inspired by a visit to Bali. This is an evening song
with an absurd text in Balinese all about drinking
tea and eating chicken. A subtle drone is
maintained as a persistent backdrop to the flute
and Cronholm vocal. The effect is of a peaceful,
pastoral scene. The vocalist adds her own timbre
to the ensemble parts.
The closing Muzun Mun was written quite
deliberately by Pierre Dørge in the style of
Bollywood movie themes. “I am a Bollywood
fan, and I always tell the audience that this
theme is all about a gangster, a beautiful lady
and an exciting chase on a Vespa scooter. So
here is the soundtrack for the movie. It just needs
somebody out there to make the film!
“I saw my first Bollywood picture in an outdoor
cinema when I first visited the Gambia. This is
my idea of a monsoon moon. I love the way that
Josefine sings it with the bass.” The rhythmic
impetus here is relentless.
A by-product of this amazing concert is that
in 2010, Pierre and NJO will be joining up again
with Shashank Subramanyam for a tour of India
in the band’s 30th anniversary year. As for Pierre
Dørge, his focus, energy and interest is devoted
almost exclusively to writing, for, performing
with and directing this unique global ensemble.
“When you get past 50, you just have to
concentrate on what you love and value the
most. Travelling, new ways of expression,
exploring different cultures - that is what I’ve
been doing all these years. I would not have
lived in any other time because while there are
downsides to the so called global village, mixing
the many strands of music of yesterday and
today is very refreshing. We have access to all
that went before us and it is there for us to
interpret and enjoy in our own way.”
Stand by for Pierre & NJO’s next venture on
SteepleChase in which it is planned that each
member of the band will be featured on an
individual piece. As with the enclosed live
concert, a festive feast of invention can be
Mark Gardner
(Contributor, Jazz Journal since 1962)