After four decades of explorations with his New Jungle Orchestra, Danish bandleader/guitarist Pierre Dørge hasn’t forsaken the art of playfulness. The NJO’s planned 40th-anniversary celebration at the 2020 Copenhagen Jazz Festival last summer was canceled by COVID; in its stead, Dørge culled material from the dectet’s brief tour of Denmark in late November 2019 to produce Bluu Afroo. As usual, the musical palette is rich—blending progressive big-band jazz with the groove-and-sway of African music, dappled with electronics for an air of mystery—and the mood and execution are delightfully loose-limbed.
Influenced by a trip to Zanzibar, “Ka Wa Ku Wo” is cleaved by Dørge’s filigreed blues guitar over reggae-like rhythms and an extended, gusty solo by guest tenor saxophonist Stephen Riley, punctuated by Dørge’s Mingusian exhortations. “Mingus’ Birthday Party” incongruously begins with a deflating horn fanfare, bounces back to cavorting trumpet and saxes, then dissolves into thin air during its final minute. “Rocking at Planet Pluto” pays heed to both vintage Ellington and Sun Ra’s swing roots, while “Elefante Imposante” matches woozy atmospherics to Dørge’s recitation of Basque phrases from a children’s book. And don’t miss the conch shells that bookend “Witchdoctor in the Burial Mound.”
The somber side of beauty also gets its due. “Sister” is an elegiac tone poem composed by Dørge’s wife and NJO keyboardist Irene Becker for her sibling, suffused with heartfelt textures from bass clarinet, soprano sax, and the pairing of Riley and bassist Thommy Andersson. Finally, as Neil Tesser points out in his excellent liner notes, the way Riley’s breathy tenor captures the soul of Dørge’s “Mama Asili” is reminiscent of the way Paul Gonsalves burnished many classic Ellington-Strayhorn ballads.
Bluu Afroo is an apt title for an unconventional band that has developed its own musical language over the past 40 years.Originally Published