The long-term success of any artistic enterprise depends equally on seemingly conflicting virtues: adaptability to new influences and adherence to an initial creative vision. Twenty years ago Danish guitarist Pierre Dorge’s New Jungle Orchestra arose from the confluence of his interest in West African music and his respect for the work of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk–and if Dorge had strictly maintained that direction, we’d still be listening to the nutball hybrids of big-band saxophones, kora-styled guitar solos, Euro-American harmonies, and loping high-life rhythms that characterized the orchestra’s first albums. But in fact his ten-piece group–abetted by a relatively stable lineup–has continued to sharpen and expand its musical vocabulary, becoming one of the oddest and most rewarding bands in jazz. In 1997, following a successful tour of China, the NJO produced China Jungle (Dacapo), a freshet of newly energized material infused with Asian influences and featuring guest soloists on Chinese instruments. And though the orchestra’s latest studio disc, the 1999 Giraf, returns to Africa for its primary setting, it also nods respectfully to several previously unacknowledged heroes–Coleman Hawkins, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, and revivified 60s saxophone revolutionary John Tchicai, who makes an appearance on the record. Of course, the more exotic Dorge’s vision, the truer he is to the spirit of Ellington’s late 1920s Cotton Club band, the original Jungle Orchestra–a group that not only established Ellington as a masterful musician and entertainer, but also popularized a slew of colorful instrumental techniques and helped pioneer the use of world rhythms in jazz. Last fall, at the first Chicago World Music Festival, the NJO provided a jolt of expertly blended music from several continents–proof that, unlike such colleagues as the Willem Breuker Kollektief, it hasn’t even begun to grow stale. Thursday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Torben Huss.