The Grasslands Ensemble and Daniel Ho
Between the Sky and Prairie
Wind Music (www.windmusic.com.tw)
A review by David Cox
Daniel Ho, Hawaiian ukulele master with more than 100 recordings, teams up on this gentle gem with Wu Judy Chin-tai, a Taiwanese music composer and producer, and the multi-talented Mongolian Grasslands Ensemble for an album that connects across cultural divides.
We may think of Hawai'i as American politically, however geographically and culturally it is Austronesian, and has an affinity to other Pacific Islanders and Taiwanese. Connecting through the medium of the Mandarin language, with co-producer Wu, Ho was able to bring together musicians from a diversity of cultures: Mongolian, Manchurian, Evenk, Daur, Russian and Han Chinese.
"Between the Sky and Prairie" (excerpt)
The result is a clean and focused recording with a diversity of sounds and several highlights. These include the pretty title track which features Ho on ukulele and chaoer player Han Mou Ren. The chaoer is a kind of horse head fiddle, and they offer a nice duet.
An upbeat and catchy "Daur Love Song" follows and features the entire Grasslands Ensemble. Evenk singer Qiqigema's strong vocal on "Grey Sparrow's Heartache" accompanied by a versatile Ho on piano hits the exact spot where classical, jazz and folk meet.
On "Rock Blossoms" the Hasar Band, feauring Bao Wuyunbilige on lead vocals, bridges the gap betwen traditional music and energetic pop-rock. On "Singing Magpie" the sound and Qiqigema's vocal is perhaps more Eastern-sounding. "Jiang Mu Reverie" is a lovely trio of Borjigin Hasibatu, vocals, Han Mou Ren on morin khour, and Ho providing a very sensitive piano track.
"Praise for Galloping Horses" (excerpt)
My favorite track features throat singer Tamir Hargana, on "Praise for Galloping Horses" and Ho, on an ipu heke, a Hawaiian percussion instrument. Hargana also plays the tovshuur on this one, and its not always clear where the vocal leaves off and the instrument begins, on this very strong, emotive track.
On "Yaohur" a Buryat folk song we again meet the Hasar Band and the doshpuluur. And the disc ends with a powerful "Ghenghis Khan Eulogy" featuring Hasibatu, a veteran Inner Mongolian folk performer.
Credit to Wu for achieving the pleasant synthesis in sound, and Ho for his virtuosity and ability to create a common setting for a diverse musician group featuring both male and female vocal performers.
Strongly evocative of the Hulunbuir grasslands of Inner Mongolia, this 13-track disc is highly accessible, but at the same time, has much to offer on subsequent plays. - David Cox