A genuinely intriguing and overall rewarding release.
Stewart Turner 2007-11-23
The idea of a swan-throat lute and a horse-head violin sounds like something guaranteed to get the RSPCA all of a tither, but these are but two of the traditional Mongolian instruments employed by Ulaanbaatar collective Egschliglen on their latest release.
Formed in 1991, the Egschliglen (translating loosely as 'Beautiful Melody') project aims to take the traditional rhythms and instrumentation of Mongolian folk music and adapt them for contemporary listening - adding innovation, experimentation and playfulness to the mix, rather than simply playing their way note-for-note through the ancient standards.
Central to this is the art of 'koommii', traditional Mongolian 'hroat-singing', which evolved as a way of imitating the sounds of nature, such as the mountains, the rivers and the wind. So far, so romantic. However, to Western ears, this deep, resonating overtone growl can be somewhat hard work, and rather than evoking the wide, open plains of Mongolia, instead conjures up images of Hanna Barbera's Captain Caveman creation in the throes of a heavy bout of food-poisoning, or something from a Reeves and Mortimer sketch.
The album often works best when the koomii is given a bit of respite. The epic, cinematic ''Nutgiin Zamd'' builds beautifully, ending up where Chinese and Russian folk-music meets a Sergio Leone Western soundtrack. On slower pieces such as ''Huurhun Haliun'', the slightly discordant soundscape even draws parallels with the violin-heavy sounds of the first Velvet Underground album. Final track ''Bau'rin'' even re-works a childlike Bavarian peasant-song in the Mongolian-style, and it works like a dream.
Gereg is a genuinely intriguing and overall rewarding release - just figure out your stance on Mongolian throat-singing in advance.