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VÄSEN - Brewed

VÄSEN - Brewed
Northside NSD7100

Olov Johansson (nyckelharpa, kontrabasharpa), Roger Tallroth (12 string - Tallroth tuning guitars) and Mikael Marin (5-string viola) make up Väsen. This, their 17th outpouring, is worth listening to from start to finish.

The music is sophisticated and synthetic in the best sense. Sophisticated, because only this degree of unity and mutual respect between the musicians can achieve this degree of exciting coherence, from knowing your fellow musicians extremely well (the band has been together since 1990). Synthetic, because whilst all self-penned, the album has avoided clichés and gestures but embodies a powerful knowledge of the sources and employment of the Swedish musical traditions.

So, what have we got here? Waltzes, polskas, marches, “Gudda – an odd meter tune” and compositions dedicated to, amongst others, a young lady in Australia, two friends getting married in Stockholm, to each other, and to Esbjorn Hogmark , a master nyckelharpa craftsman and musician.

At first hearing, to me, the first two tracks seemed unsettled. However, the third, Sommarpolskan, is exquisite, and the following wedding tune reflective, lyrical and beautifully crafted, reminiscent of some Carolan pieces. Roger Tallroth’s guitar lightly picks up on the melodies then switches to create a driving rhythm or imperceptibly moves to a ground bass progression, almost baroque in structure, suiting his tunings and unison stringing. Just occasionally I felt that the busyness of the guitar became a bit grungy, but clearly this man is a deft and sensitive guitarist.

I was slightly disappointed, given the total mastery of their instrument playing and their lyrical creativity, that the nyckelharpa and the fiddle/viola didn’t take more of an opportunity to play a solo role. Only in Sonia’s Promenad at the very end of track 15 did something start to emerge of which I would have loved to have heard more.

I see some influences shared with the newer generation of musicians from Scotland and Shetland in particular. I also think that Bach (if only) would have commented favourably on the exquisite colours and the adroit melody and counter-melody playing.

Listen to the CD; book the band; I’ll be there.

C.John Edwards

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This album was reviewed in Issue 120 of The Living Tradition magazine.