November 2012

“In a country where fusion is often misinterpreted, I’m happy to have got this chance,” flute maestro Shashank Subramanyam summed up at the end of the concert on day two ofThe Hindu Friday Review November Fest 2012, where he played with the New Jungle Orchestra.

A concert that could simply be described as eclectic and enigmatic, began with flautist Shashank and Parupalli Phalgun (mridangam) with Tyagaraja’s ‘Bantureethi kolu’. The New Jungle Orchestra soon joined him with the wafting notes of Pierre Dorge’s guitar and Morten Carlsen ending the preface with Carl Nielsen’s symphony on the taragot.

The New Jungle Orchestra has been around since 1980 and has carved a niche in avant-garde jazz music influenced by Asian, African and European culture. Shashank Subramanyam is a child prodigy and a Carnatic classical flautist, with a special passion for jazz.

Pierre’s leadership skills were evident right from when he conducted three woodwind instruments, his wife Irene on the keys, drummer Martin Andersen and two Indian artistes. He led the group into repeating strange sounding words in varied tones and volumes, adding a good measure of humour into the evening. An African number ‘Joobe joobe’ was brought to life with the tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. Swaralaya, penned by Shashank, was set on a steady bass line that echoed the flute melody. In the middle of the piece, the composer made a quick change from the bass flute to the Indian flute, adding to the tonality of the number.

With every piece played, the audience was on a roller coaster ride in an all too familiar pattern — a start, a gradual weaving in of all instruments followed by a lull, with just one instrumentalist showing his/her prowess before the rest join in full vigour and grandeur.

The group set off to unravel the secret language of elephants and in a twist, Jacob Mygind on the tenor sax was titled head whispering elephant. Woodwind instruments are usually blown to produce sound, but interestingly, the instrumentalists managed to create elephant whispers in a mighty jungle by blocking the passage of air! Throughout the piece, one could see a nervous and amused Shashank, who admitted that he had never used the bamboo to create the kind of sounds he was asked to make for this particular piece.

The band from Denmark performed a Danish song that tried to encapsulate listening to a nightingale on a summer night. Fused with an Indian raga, the song’s melancholic beginning and Irene’s vocals (that could not be heard) left the audience expecting a bit more than what was served.

But as if to compensate, “Poosha Moosha”, inspired by Indian and other cultures that the band had experienced, brought to life the quirkiness of the band with Pierre’s theatrical and genius guitar playing, offbeat drums and a melody that was played mostly on the higher register.

And if despite all the mad mix of music one was not bitten by the jungle bug yet, ‘Minchu’, a piece inspired by Shashank’s daughter, sought to make you their eternal fan. The fast, playful number saw a jugalbandi between mridangam artiste Parupalli Phalgun and drummer Martin Andersen. To add to the excitement, the woodwind instrumentalists descended into the crowd and walked around blowing their instruments into people’s ears.

The passion, experience and expertise of the band is tangible as you see them have a conversation with each other through the music they play with no bar on nationality, age or seniority. The rare theatrical ability they possess perhaps sets them apart from numerous other fusion projects. Thunderous applause and a well-deserved standing ovation gave them their due.

The New Jungle Orchestra featured Pierre Dorge on the guitar, Irene Becker on the keyboard, Morten Carlsen on the tenor sax and taragot, Jacob Mygind on the soprano and tenor sax, Anders Banke on the clarinet and bass clarinet and Martin Andersen on the drums. Accompanying the flautist Shashank Subramanyam was Parupalli Phalgun on the mridangam.