Enkhjargal Erkham, known mononymously as Enji, grew up in Mongolia, learning the traditional music of her nation. Growing up, she wanted to be a music teacher, but an initiative by the Goethe Institute to promote jazz music in Mongolia changed all of that. Enji fell in love with jazz and studied it further. However, she also did not want to let go of her roots in traditional Mongolian music. The result was a unique fusion of these two styles from two ends of the world.
Enji released her first album, Mongolian Song, in 2017. But it was the 2021 album Ursgal, which featured original compositions by the Mongolian artist, which truly made us notice her. In her new album, Ulaan, Enji further develops her musical style and takes us on a journey through the landscape of her memories and emotions.
Enji begins the album with a haunting monologue on Zuud. Despite having an incredibly talented band, the first track is all about the vocalist. As the track progresses, Enji demonstrates her skill in the Mongolian “long song” tradition by holding long, high notes with a steady vibrato. Zuud grows in intensity before entering a sudden decrescendo, coming to a soft and silent end.
The album’s second track, Taivshral, deviates completely from the second and takes on a more Western, jazz-based flavour. Enji sings in catchy, syncopated rhythms, incorporating scats into her vocals. This track also features Matthias Lindermayr, who performs a couple of beautiful trumpet solos.
In Temeen Deerees Naran Oirhon Enji returns to the Mongolian long song style but with a lighter, lilting approach. The defining feature of this track is the interplay between Enji and Sao Paulo-based clarinettist Joana Queiroz, as they alternate between melody and accompaniment, stealing the spotlight from each other.
Perhaps fittingly, the true force of the entire band is first felt on the titular track, Ulaan. Enji’s long-time collaborators, guitarist Paul Brändle and bassist Munguntovch Tsolmonbayar, attempt to unsettle the listener with their dissonant harmonies as Enji enters yet another mysterious monologue. While setting a rhythm to spoken words seems like a contradiction, drummer Maria Portugal somehow manages it, adding to the intrigue of the composition.
Perhaps one of the greatest struggles of recording a studio album is giving it a satisfactory conclusion. But Enji shows her maturity as a musician with Uzegdel. It lacks the intrigue of the previous compositions, replacing it with a sense of serenity, hope and light-heartedness. Brändle’s lively plucked melodies shine on this track and cement his position as an integral part of Enji’s team.
Ulaan is not your typical jazz album. It encapsulates Enji’s journey of self-discovery by crafting her personal musical style. It is an experiment that attempts to merge tradition with modernity. Ulaan is a masterful expression of Enji’s vision for herself and her music and is bound to leave you craving for more.