Väsen — Trio
(NorthSide NSD6077, 2003, CD)
by Jim Chokey, 2004-04-01:
Trio is the ninth album by Swedish folk ensemble Väsen. Originally, the group had been the strings-based trio of Olov Johannson on nyckelharpa (a keyed folk fiddle with a slight droning sound), Mikael Marin on violas and violin, and Roger Tallroth on twelve-string acoustic guitar and bozoki (a Swedish variant of the bazouki). Back in 1996, Väsen added percussionist André Ferrari and became a quartet. For various reasons, the original members have decided to try their hand at playing as a trio again (at least some of the time) — and the sixteen tracks on Trio feature Johannson, Marin, and Tallroth as such, without any percussion from Ferrari. As on their prior two outings, Whirled and Gront, the album consists a mixture of traditional tunes and original compositions written in a traditional style. This includes lots of lively folkdances (polskas and waltzes, mostly) with strong, clear rhythms that are so thoroughly integrated into the interlaced melodic arrangements that few listeners will be struck by the absence the percussion. As for the playing — well, suffice to say that it’s top-notch all the way through, as fans of the Northside label have come to expect from these guys. I should note, perhaps, that Trio is an enhanced CD, that comes with an HTML discography, band history, and bios of the members, as well as two Quicktime videos of live performances that show just how tight these guys are live. Highly recommended for fans of intense instrumental Scandi-folk.
by Paul Hightower, 2004-04-01:
Väsen are one of today’s premier neo-folk ensembles from Sweden, though they offer their renditions of original and traditional songs with a twist. Breaking from their standard quartet format for this album (they normally include a percussionist), the lineup features Olav Johansson, a master of the nyckelharpa, an instrument that is somewhere between a violin and an accordion. It’s played with a short violin-like bow, though the pitches are controlled via a row of keys along the broad neck, instead of on the strings themselves. It’s worn around the neck via a strap and seems an unwieldy contraption though it provides a delightful lead voice. Bookending Johansson are viola / violin player Mikael Marin and Roger Tallroth on acoustic guitar. The chemistry of the three is sheer acoustic magic that will charm fans of any traditional folk music. What’s wonderful about this particular album is that the majority of it is original compositions, unquestionably informed by folk traditions going back centuries, yet nonetheless undeniably contemporary. At times I was even reminded of Béla Fleck’s recordings, where the melodic and harmonic ideas take surprisingly modern twists and turns. And you prog rockers will love the eccentric and shifting pulse of the songs that keeps your foot from ever really finding the downbeat. The album also contains some fun little gems ranging from wedding marches to traditional polskas. To further whet your appetite a Quicktime movie of the group on stage is included. The cumulative effect is to turn the uninitiated into an instant Väsen-head. Uff da!
by Jon Davis, 2004-04-01:
I’ll admit that one of the things I normally like most about Väsen is the unconventional use of percussion, so the prospect of a Väsen album without a percussionist was not at first promising. I know that the group started as a trio, but I found the expanded lineup more interesting. While Trio may lack the punch of the quartet’s recordings, there’s plenty of energy, and the result is not in the least sleepy or mellow. The basic combination of acoustic guitar, violin/viola, and nyckelharpa is a pleasant one, and certainly not familiar to fans of American, British, or Celtic folk music. In this hour of music, there are many moments that seem to adhere to traditional arrangements, but also much playful modern influence, especially in Roger Talroth’s guitar, when he breaks into some chunky, rock-flavored barre chords to accent a melody. Often, Mikael Marin’s viola will pick up those accents, providing a nice contrast to the droning of Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa. Many of the tracks are polskas, which seems to be the dominant type of tune in Swedish folk. The polska is a dance in 3/4 time, but Väsen has a habit of messing the accents about so it’s often hard to pick out the 1-2-3. I swear they sometimes add a 4, or drop the 3, maybe to throw off the dancers, maybe to keep it interesting for themselves, or maybe as a way of foiling expectations. In any case, it can be a lot of fun.
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