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U.S. Born, Nurtured in Denmark

*** NIELS-HENNING ORSTED PEDERSEN AND THE DANISH RADIO BIG BAND, "Ambiance", Da Capo Records; *** PIERRE DORGE & NEW JUNGLE ORCHESTRA, "Music From the Danish Jungle", Da Capo Records

May 26, 1996|Don Heckman

In the recent rush to downsize government, the programs that subsidize the arts have been among the primary initial targets. Consequences of the cutbacks are already being felt, mostly at the secondary school level--the point at which unique creative talent begins to emerge. The negative repercussions for music in general, and jazz in particular, are obvious.

Things are far different in a number of European countries, in which a variety of radio and television jazz ensembles are maintained, with government support, on an active basis. The official patronage results in ensembles that have the opportunity to grow and develop together. Equally important and not at all like the situation in this country, where the music was born--it also encourages an environment in which jazz is viewed as a living, evolving art form, receptive to all manner of new ideas and attitudes.

These two new albums from Denmark, where jazz is actively funded, are interesting cases in point. This weekend, for example, KLON-FM's "Blowin' Up a Storm" celebrates America's big-band jazz past--a worthwhile goal, despite its limited perspective. But the Pedersen recording and, in particular, the New Jungle Orchestra CD, look to the large jazz ensemble's present and future, and the picture that emerges is fascinating.

Orsted Pedersen is one of the preeminent European jazz musicians, a bassist who has performed with everyone from Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler to Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew. "Ambiance" features him as principal soloist with the Danish Radio Big Band, conduced by Ole Kock Hansen. The music, most of it written by Orsted Pedersen and arranged by Hansen, is imaginative and vigorous--reminiscent, at times, of the music of the Toshiko Akiyoshi and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis bands. Orsted Pedersen's soloing is first-rate, with excellent choruses also contributed by trombonist Vincent Nilsson and American tenor saxophonist Bob Rockwell.

The Danish Jungle Orchestra takes its name from the "growling jungle sound" of the early Duke Ellington band. But influences from Charlie Haden's Liberation Jazz Orchestra, Charles Mingus' larger ensembles and the Willem Breuker Kollektief are equally apparent in the nine-piece ensemble's music.

Leader Dorge, who performs on guitar, Tibetan trumpet and vocals, takes the music all over the place. "Full Moon for a Rhino" could have been taken from the Ellington book of the early '20s; pianist Irene Becker's charts, "Autumn in Saltum" and "Pirup," have the feel and texture of Gil Evans' bands of the '70s; and there are fragments reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's melodies and rhythms (and vocals) with a jaunty Caribbean quality.

Most of the music works; some of it doesn't. But all of it has the open-minded stamp of musical curiosity and creative imagination--precisely the qualities that will have difficulty surfacing in today's opportunity-restricted breeding grounds of American jazz.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good, recommended), four stars (excellent).

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