A superlative underground jazz recordRead Review
'Ursgal' is the second album from Mongolian singer Enji Erkham, but her first for experimental Munich based label Squama and also her first to feature original compositions. The whole album basically follows the same pattern of lightly reverberated jazz chords alternatively picked, strummed and plucked beneath Enji’s distinctive, meandering vocals - which in turn are occasionally left aside for saxophone solos. There’s also double bass underpinning all of this. It’s a simple formula, and executed with such sure-footedness that it does an excellent job of sustaining interest throughout.
The first track from the album, 'Zavkhan', is named after a mountainous region in Mongolia and loosely speaking is a message to her father, who still lives in a yurt and is without a phone. Now based in Munich, it does make you wonder how lockdown has been for Enji without being able to call her parents easily let alone play zoom quizzes.
The second single, 'An Untitled Hill', sees Enji singing in English, and whilst it’s a very pleasant song that recalls Ella Fitzgerald, it doesn’t quite have the mystique and magical quality of the songs she sings in her mother tongue. Across the rest of the album, a real standout moment is 'Gandii Mod' where Enji’s unique vocal delivery really soars, or Khorom where the vocal and guitar intertwine perfectly.
Altogether this is a compelling album made from a new (to the UK at least) artist worth keeping an eye on. Also worth keeping an eye on is the label as a whole who earlier this year released a wonderful album from Martin Brugger who also produced this album. The thousand year old traditions of Mongolian music are in evidence here, and alongside an entrancing mix of jazz and folk it could well be one of the best underground albums of the year.
Loud And Quite21.06.21
Ursgal is a sparse, idiosyncratic left-turnRead Review
Enkhjargal Erkhembayar’s second album as Enji takes its name from the Tamil word for “excitement,” wide-eyed and mapping untrodden paths in Mongolian music. Born in a yurt to a working-class family in Ulaanbaatar, Enji released her debut album four years ago; Mongolian Song was a reinterpretation of the works of renowned composer Sembiin Gonchigsumlaa through jazz’s idiosyncrasies, strengthened by her studies at the Munich Academy of Music. Crafting accessible ballads with the help of saxophonist Johannes Enders (Donald Byrd, Lester Bowie) and acclaimed fusion drummer Billy Hart (Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner), Mongolian Song earmarked Enji as an absorbing new voice, capable of travelling an impressive distance within the constraints of known composition.
With Ursgal, Enji’s own songs are infinitely sparser and more playful, more assertive of Enji the artist. Her voice dissipates the improvised scats sowed throughout Mongolian Song and drifts further to becoming an instrument of its own, animated with a strange timbre, navigating the record’s silences as its worthy cartographer. Where her debut was built around piano, Enji’s voice now sits atop electric guitar and double bass. It’s best when it embraces her mother tongue, although a gorgeous vocal cover of Jimmy Dorsey and Paul Madeira’s classic ‘I’m Glad There is You’ is the exception that proves the rule; Enji’s voice breaks through the sound of footsteps and a Metro train line with striking clarity, as if she were singing to you through a phone.
Elsewhere, the highlights are grounded in geography: ‘Zavkhan’ becomes a sentient bop to the river on the edge of the Gobi Desert through Moritz Stahl’s tenor sax, while ‘Khorom’ entombs Enji’s hushed lullaby about the fabled ruined city founded by Genghis Khan. The mundanity of passing time is drawn out with strings mimicking a ticking clock on ‘Diary of June 9th’ – the one formulaic oversight on her first collection of original material – before each syllable becomes achingly pronounced on ‘Sevket Bor’, playing lusciously to the Mongolian traditions of urtyn duu (“long song”). There are still echoes of Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae filtering through Enji’s landscapes, and while they may have been necessary muses for her self-expression, the true excitement comes as she begins to shrug them off.
'Like Ella Fitzgerald singing Khalkha'Read Review
This Mongolian folk singer relocated to Munich to pursue a love of jazz, recording her second LP with German producer Martin Brugger. Expressive originals – like Ella Fitzgerald singing in Khalkha – sit comfortably alongside a cappella standad I'm Glad There is You.
Enji’s Mongolian Jazz ValentineRead Review
For Enkhjargal Erkhembayar—Enji, for short—the past year has been one of deep introspection. Her livelihood upended by the pandemic, she suddenly had a lot more time to consider her path forward and to ruminate on how she ended up where she did. “I grew up with my whole family and people always around me, and I had to face the situation of being alone and truly seeing myself,” she says. When she took that time to self-reflect, she saw her sophomore album, Ursgal, staring back at her.
Born and raised in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, Enji lived in a tiny yurt with a working-class family. “My parents worked every day, the whole day, for the city,” Enji says. “They love to sing, but they don’t have any passion for music. I was a bit different.” Ever supportive, her parents encouraged her to do whatever felt right for her, even if it meant eventually leaving Mongolia. “It was a great support from them.”
Originally, Enji’s plan was to teach music rather than perform it. She was working as an elementary school music teacher when a life-changing opportunity arrived. Classical bassist and instructor Martin Zenker brought a jazz education project to Mongolia, funded by the Munich-based Goethe-Institut, and one of Enji’s colleagues suggested that she try out for it. “I wanted to apply as a pianist,” Enji says. “I went [to the audition], I played piano, and sang, and somehow he understood that I’m auditioning as a singer—and so he took me as a singer.”
Enji asked her school’s director for time off to pursue the project, under the stipulation that she would return after a year, when the course was supposed to be finished. She agreed to the terms. But after a year’s time, the project had received an infusion of funding and was able to carry on longer. Enji realized that jazz music had offered a fork in her career path. “Through this project I really found myself, and started to understand that singing is important for me,” she says.
Enji recorded her debut album, Mongolian Song—an album of traditional Mongolian song with jazz arrangements, accompanied by accomplished performers like the legendary drummer Billy Hart, pianist Paul Kirby, saxophonist Johannes Enders, and Martin Zenker—with help from the Goethe-Institut. She moved to Munich to finish her education at the University of Music and Performing Arts, where she ended up having another life-altering encounter.
“I thought maybe my second album should be standards and jazz repertoire, and singing with a huge band,” Enji says, but that all changed when she met Martin Brugger, the owner of Squama Recordings. They’d been aware of each other and interested in collaborating, but couldn’t seem to make it work due to conflicting schedules. The COVID-19 pandemic would simplify that issue: Brugger reached out to Enji to work together on an online concert. It was the start of a fruitful working relationship.