Sketches of India
Danish composer-guitarist Pierre Dørge, like Charles Mingus before him, possesses an antic ardor for the striking horn voicings and ruminative soundscapes of Duke Ellington, and consequently is more of a kindred spirit to Mingus (a high compliment) than Ellington himself. The other signature trait that Dørge’s New Jungle Orchestra semi-big bands have displayed over their 30-plus years of existence is an ability to unleash a cosmopolitan pinwheel of moods, tones and textures. Indigenous music from Western Africa, Eastern Europe and China has been blended in varying degrees to their Ellington/Mingus stock. Now Sketches of India overtly includes that country in the mix.
Yet Sketches is less consumed with the musical archetypes of India than the NJO’s China Jungle was with China’s when that recording was made in 1997. Certainly there are times when the Indian influence is unmistakable, as in the drone note DØrge creates with the aid of a violin bow on his guitar on “Dawn by the Sea,” which gently unfolds into a sinuous sway of horns and percussion. And there is “Swaralaya,” a courtly-cum-buoyant raga by Shashank Subramanyam, DØrge’s mentor (albeit younger) in Indian music.
But just as often, the songs are typical NJO mini-suites inspired by something DØrge experienced in India. “Papanasam Mood,” recalling a temple near the Arabian Sea, begins with the penetrating low tones of bass clarinet and bowed bass, but soon there is DØrge’s liquid guitar, and percussion under trombone and synthesizer. “Elephants on the Road” is relatively brutish and brash with a staccato swagger. “Mumbai Nights” beckons with Ayi Solomon’s conga, the horns sashaying in to sync up one by one. And “Afternoon in Delhi” leads with the skewed stride of pianist Irene Becker introducing the saloon to the conservatory.
Part of this is DØrge’s growth as a composer, and part of it is the expanding stylistic palette generated by the group’s global curiosity. This stop in India was time well spent.