'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.
Words: Nicolas Graves
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