Väsen med André

Reviews

Edinburgh Tradfest, 2015

08 May 2015
Jim Gilchrist · 8 May, 2015 · The Scotsman

It was Olov Johansson, nyckelharpa player with the superbly accomplished Swedish trio Väsen, who suggested that by the end of the evening we’d be “thoroughly polskanised”, referring to the distinctive polska tunes which form the bedrock of their repertoire. He needn’t have worried, as he, viola player Mikael Marin and guitarist Roger Tallroth delivered a masterly performance that was warmly enhanced by the intimacy of its TradFest/Edinburgh Folk Club setting.

Väsen · Pleasance, Edinburgh

The Swedes were supported by brief, but nicely complementary, sets by the home-grown Celtic Nyckelharpa Project, a trio led by Gavin Pennycook playing Scots and Irish repertoire on the distinctive Swedish keyed fiddle.

With near-telepathic levels of interaction honed by 26 years on the road, Väsen generate a wonderful melling of timbres, with Tallroth’s 12-string guitar cascading through the tight unison playing or lithe harmonising of the viola and nyckelharpa. There were tunes of their own, not least a haunting little waltz by Tallroth, picked out on damped strings until the nyckelharpa sang out, bagpipe-like, for the last few bars; also old melodies of intriguing provenance – such as the polska and minuet apparently favoured by Carl Linnaeus, 18th-century father of scientific taxonomy.

They could switch with split-second timing between all-out dance-hall stomp to Baroque intricacy and flamboyance, often within the same tune, and at one point discharged a barrage of dissonances that suggested they were about to break into the shower scene score from Psycho.

We were indeed well “polskanised”, but left shouting for more.

Edinburgh Folk Club, 2015

05 May 2015
Tradfest Review · Rob Adams · The Herald · Folk & Jazz critic · 5 May, 2015

Väsen at Edinburgh Folk Club · 5 Stars

We may never know what happened between Väsen and the booking agent who inspired Kapten Kapsyl. It seems safe to venture that the Swedish trio’s relationship with the man they dubbed Captain Bottletop didn’t end harmoniously. Whether it reached such a brilliantly orchestrated, nay choreographed, coda as the tune named in the captain’s honour is another matter.

Väsen have made codas into an art form all by themselves: it’s one of the many, many pleasures to be had from listening to them. They’re not all as wayward and prolonged as Kapten Kapsyl’s. Some are deftly turned, brilliantly brief and quite tangential afterthoughts. Another did its damnedest to insinuate Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds into its otherwise very Scandinavian demeanour.

Such compositional attention to detail goes hand in hand with arrangements where viola and the Swedish keyed fiddle, the nyckelharpa dovetail so perfectly with a twelve-string guitar that can be piccolo sweet and Telecaster rockin’ within the same few bars of a polska. And the tunes are mostly polskas, each with a specific, identifiable character that grows and cavorts, be it with minute gracefulness, a slightly staggering metre or mighty celebration but always with fantastic precision.

The stylistic exceptions were minuets and waltzes, some emphasising the effortless stretch back to baroque times in Väsen’s music generally and one waltz in particular, delightfully named The Little Culture Support Waltz, illustrating the gorgeous elegance these men, none of whom are small, have at their long fingertips. A fantasia of pizzicato viola, nyckelharpa harmonics and twelve-string melodicism, this was quiet, shapely majesty in a set overflowing with magic, musicality, wit and whatever the Swedish might be for bonhomie.

Celtic Connections, 2014

24 Jan 2014
Kate Molleson · The Herald · 24 January, 2014

VäsenAfter 25 years in the business the Swedish string trio Väsen are sounding better than ever. They write gorgeous tunes and deliver them with a spry step, airtight ensemble and bittersweet lyricism that gets deep under your skin. They’ve lost none of their daft banter, none of their warm and raucous rapport. A hearty cheer went up when they ambled on stage at the Mitchell: they’re Celtic Connections favourites and for obvious reason.

Their sound is governed by Olov Johansson’s winsome nyckelharpa, but Väsen is by no means a one-man band. Mikael Marin’s five-string viola adds richness and feisty decorations; Roger Tallroth’s guitar provides real melodic counterpoint (it’s no surprise that he’s also a fiddler) as well as foot-stomping rhythmic drive. And they’ve been playing together for so long that every nuance is as breezy and loose as it is perfectly in synch.

They performed a couple of early 18th century pieces including a beautifully poised minuet from the time of Carl Linnaeus, but mostly their set comprised material from their latest album, 2013′s superb Mindset. Almost every number is a polska (a traditional Nordic triple-time dance) – in fact, if this band is anything to go by it seems the Swedes write polskas for any occasion going: for friends, neighbours and family members, for retirement presents and wedding gifts. Marin told us that he composed one polska after taking his dog for a 780m walk and watching it wee 12 times along the way; proof, surely, that musical inspiration can be found anywhere you look. As an encore they played a simple wedding waltz, Pilvi & Eskos Brudvals, whose aching, meandering melody is among the most beautiful you’re likely to encounter.

Celtic Colours, 2013

20 Oct 2013

Celtic Colours Wrap-Up: October 18-19, 2013

By Gary Whitehouse, on October 20th, 2013

The final two days of the 2013 Celtic Colours International Festival were a whirlwind of activity – for us, anyway. On Friday we took a short trip along part of the Cabot Trail and a tiny section of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park before having dinner at the Glendora Distillery between Mabou and Inverness, and then taking in a top-notch show that highlighted the Nordic-Celtic connection at the Inverness Academy.

In Good Company

Mikael Marin and Olov Johansson of Vasen with Dawn & Margie Beaton

Mikael Marin and Olov Johansson of Vasen with Dawn & Margie Beaton

The program was titled “In Good Company,” and although it wasn’t a sold-out house, it was quite close at nearly 500. In contrast to most of the other shows we saw this week, this one had a high proportion of locals in the audience. That was no doubt due to the presence of some popular local acts on the bill, including the sibling foursome Company Road. Mitch, Gordie, Brennan and Kelly Jean MacDonald hail from just down the road in Port Hood, and although they currently sing and play more of a contemporary country sound, they grew up on Cape Breton-style Celtic music and dance. They told some touching stories of growing up in a big family and sang a short set of mid-tempo country-folk. They got their parents, Cecil and Mary Jane MacDonald (herself a step-dancing legend on Cape Breton Island’s west coast) on stage to sing the sentimental “This Old House,” and did a nice, slowed-down version of “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

Half of the show was given over to Nordic acts, starting with Finns Antti and Arto Järvelä, who played fiddles and guitar (Antti) on a short set of Finnish traditional and contemporary folk music. The setlist included lots of polskas, some waltzes and a polonaise or two, in addition to a tango-influenced piece he wrote during a tour of South America – it was a woozy hangover of a tune that slid back and forth between waltz and double-waltz time.

The other half of the Nordic program was filled by one of my favorite folk acts from any part of the world, the Swedish trio Väsen. They electrified the crowd with their driving, rhythmic music and their high-volume, full sound created by Roger Tallroth’s 12-string guitar, Mikael Marin’s five-string viola and Olov Johansson’s modern nyckelharpa. Their set had several tunes from their 2013 album Mindset including the whimsical Hundlåten (“the dog song”) which Marin wrote while on a walk with his Spanish waterdog; and the “Carl Linnaeus Polonaise” from their 2007 Linnaeus Väsen disc. It was the fifth time I’ve seen these guys, and I’m not tired of them yet; this was their first trip to Celtic Colours but I suspect they’ll be invited back, judging from all the whooping and hollering during their set and the sustained applause at its conclusion from folks hoping for an encore – something that rarely happens at Celtic Colours.

The evening was anchored by the Beaton Sisters Band, helmed by the popular Margie and Dawn Beaton of Mabou. The two played only fiddle this night and did some step-dancing, although Dawn also plays piano and Margie mandolin. Piper Kenneth MacKenzie of Mabou and pianist Jason Roach of Cheticamp (also of Sprag Session) rounded out the sound behind these champions of Gaelic fiddle music. They played a strong set of jig-and-reel sets with the band and as a duo and also did a step-dance duet that had the crowd on its feet. Dawn, by the way, has been named artistic director of the festival for the 2014 season, after serving for a few years as assistant director. Here’s a good example of the way Dawn and Margie sound as a duet, on “Just Jigs” from their debut CD Dawn & Margie Beaton.

For the grand finale, all the musicians played a long medley of Finnish, Swedish and Celtic tunes and songs, including a hilarious rendition of Abba’s “Take a Chance With Me” sung by the kids from Company Road.

Cape Breton Post

17 Oct 2013

Mix of new and familiar sounds fills church in Ingonish

The Cape Breton Post · Published on October 17, 2013

INGONISH — In the cozy confines of St. Peter’s Church, Swedish group Väsen continued their debut tour of the Celtic Colours International Festival, Thursday night.

The folk trio, featuring Mikael Marin, Roger Tallroth, and Olov Johansson, are performing three shows in three nights on a whirlwind swing through Cape Breton. The second in that run brought them to Ingonish Thursday for The Hills Are Alive show, alongside The Snowflake Trio made up of Irish flute player and singer Nuala Kennedy, accordionist Frode Haltli and Hardanger fiddle player Vegar Vårdal from Norway; as well as Cape Breton band Coig starring Chrissy Crowley, Rachel Davis, Colin Grant, Jason Roach and Darren McMullen, all veterans of the festival in their own right but making their Celtic Colours debut as a quintet.

The Snowflake Trio and Coig took the stage in the first half of the show, while Väsen was introduced to open the second half of the night with Marin on viola, Tallroth on the 12-string guitar, and Johansson on the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish instrument. With the shape of a long fiddle and features of various other instruments, the nyckelharpa has a storied past.

“The history goes back a long time, the oldest picture is from 1350 but we don’t know very much about how it was used (then). From the 1600s there’s lots of proofs of it and written texts and you can see how it’s been used,” explained Johansson. “In (the Swedish province) Uppland, where we come from, that’s where it’s been used and they have invented new models of nyckelharpa to match the fashion of the music that’s changing all the time over history.”

In the mid-1900s the nyckleharpa tradition was in decline in Uppland with only 20-30 players and about 10 people who knew how to craft one, but a resurgence happened in the 1970s when evening classes were established to teach interested people how to construct the instrument.

“It became this crae all over Sweden to build your own nyckelharpa,” said Johansson, adding that the number of players grew soon after and many nyckleharpa societies were formed in the 1980s.

While the nyckleharpa may have been the most distinct instrument on stage, it’s ust one piece of Väsen’s sound, which is often described as orchestral.

“We get that kind of comment a lot, even from classical musicians. It’s a really rich and full sound from the three of us because we tune down our instruments as well,” said Tallroth. “I’m really low in pitch and the five-string viola is both high and low so it’s sort of a mellow, rich sound as opposed to only fiddles.”

Johansson, Marin, and Tallroth are veterans of the Swedish music scene  Väsen is set to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2014 – and have released 15 albums as a trio. Their set in Ingonish included many tunes from their latest, “Mindset.”

Tallroth said their first Celtic Colours experience has been a good one so far and that the Cape Breton event is quickly climbing their list of favourite festivals.

As is tradition at festival shows, the three bands came together for a finale set, to the delight of the capacity crowd at St. Peter’s Church.

Celtic Colours is in the home stretch with ust two days left of the nine-day festival. Friday, there are shows in Baddeck, L’Ardoise, Big Pond, Inverness, Sydney Mines, and the muchanticipated Songs of the Rankins show at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay, featuring a long list of some of the island’s best singers and musicians paying tribute to the legendary Rankin Family band, of Mabou. For a full schedule of events and ticket information go to www.celtic-colours.com.

Masters of Tradition

23 Aug 2012
Bantry House, Co Cork · By Nicki ffrench Davis · Irish Examiner · Thursday, August 23, 2012

The morning coffee concert at Masters of Tradition was relaxed and intimate.

Programmed as a solo concert, it featured flute player Kevin Crawford, a founding member of Lunasa.

Crawford’s humour and stories introduced artfully combined sets of new and age-old tunes and his playing was fantastic. He invited guitarist John Doyle to join him, and then Martin Hayes, completing the Teetotallers line-up.

The main evening concert was opened by Andalusian singer Carmen Ibanez Berbel, who also played guitar. Her singing was mesmerising, with impeccable tuning and beautiful phrasing. Moya Brennan, of Clannad, was accompanied by harper Cormac de Barra, whose sensitive accompaniment and subtle vocal harmonies added colour to Brennan’s sound.

The second half of the concert featured Sweden’s Väsen, who showed why they are regular headliners at folk festivals worldwide. Featuring the extraordinary nyckelharpa, Väsen have taken old Swedish polskas and turbo-charged them, and their own compositions are lively adventures full of humour and surprises.

The trio’s arrangements are incredible, full of counter-melodies, rhythmic tricks and spicy harmonies. The highlight was an unexpected, almost jazz-rock improvisation played with gusto.

The late-night concert featured three harpers, Cormac de Barra again, joined by Michael Rooney and Tríona Marshall. While each played some wonderful solo music, with Marshall’s playing particularly memorable, it was the extraordinary sound of all three collaborating on O’Carolan tunes that was the talk of the night.

Väsen, Tolbooth, Stirling

19 Sep 2011
Published on 19 September 2011 · Herald Scotland · Rob Adams

There can’t be many Swedish folk groups with a street named after them in America, a tribute some citizens of Bloomington, Indiana, have conferred upon the extraordinarily accomplished trio Väsen.

Following this latest visit to Scotland, maybe we could give them the freedom of Princes Street or since that’s hardly a favour these days, pluralise Great King Street in their honour.

It’s no more than they deserve because this was an astonishing performance, even by the high standards they’ve shown previously in presenting their polskas and waltzes. If this repertoire sounds like it might constitute dry folklore, think again. Vasen have the collective dynamic of a string quartet crossed with a bluegrass band and the difference this time was that they chose to play without a PA system. Only Roger Tallroth’s 12-string guitar was amplified, and even that was to give slightly more presence rather than big driving volume.

The result was, we heard every smallest detail – and there are many of these in their music – as Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa, Mikael Marin’s five-string viola and Tallroth’s guitar wove together with brilliant intricacy, supported each other with finely nuanced counter melodies and carefully measured chords, and danced dizzying tunes that can sound as catchy as nursery rhymes – until you try to whistle them.

These tunes’ origins are as entertainingly explained as they are breathtakingly played, with tales of traffic lights in Kuala Lumpur bearing suspiciously Swedish-sounding names and Sweden’s most famous botanist/tune collector, Carl Linnaeus extracting tunes from his drunken-priest brother-in-law in penance. They play Kilbarchan Old Library tomorrow and Eastgate Theatre, Peebles on Wednesday. Move heaven and earth for a ticket.

Maverick 2010

28 Jul 2010

“If most of the world’s folk music is as rustic and worn in as an old rocking chair, Sweden’s Väsen play music that’s more akin to Hepplewhite or Sheraton in all of its refined Scandinavian beauty.

The trio’s been together for twenty years and the patina is richly burnished and deep in tone and polished performance.
Big in Indiana, they are so popular in the town of Bloomington that they have a street named after them, and judging by the reception they got here, Shetland understands and appreciates their sheer class as well.

It is hugely rewarding to watch three musicians gel so naturally to produce a sound and style that is both sophisticated and meaty.”

Celtic Connections: Väsen / Jenna Reid

29 Jan 2008
Strathclyde Suite, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 26 January 2008

BARRY GORDON enjoys a entertaining double bill from Sweden and Shetland SWEDEN. Famous for its Vikings and limited amount of sunlight during the shivering winter months, our Scandinavian cousins have given us a lot more than just Abba, blond hair and Henrik Larsson. Like trad music innovators, Väsen, for instance. The Swedish trio might bestow a name that sounds like something bought from IKEA you put flowers in, but they also sound like one of the best folk acts in the world today. Before them, though, Jenna Reid proved she’s more than just a pretty face, endearing herself to the audience with a succinct set of Shetland ballads and frisky folk workouts. The young Shetland fiddler (nominated for “Best Instrumentalist” at last year’s Scots Trad Music Awards) has been writing quality tunes longer than the MV Hjaltland Lerwick-to-Aberdeen ferry has been in service, and on this brief outing, applied a more classical approach to her traditional numbers.

The title track from her most recent album, The Laughing Girl – three wonderfully contrasting ditties – was an obvious standout, former teacher and proud mum, Joyce, willing her on from within the crowd. However, it was an instrumental duet with sister, Bethany on piano – a poignant tune dedicated to the memory of her grandparents Willie and Eileen – that really tugged at the heartstrings as well as ears.

An encore was the least this lassie from Quarff deserved.

Väsen, on the other hand, are an altogether different proposition. Telepathic to the point where they could probably predict what’s behind Zener cards, the Nordic trio’s skill in simultaneously stopping and starting at the same time left some scratching their heads as well as their chins.

The band’s fixation with polkas and the 3/4-time signature dominated their set, Roger Tallroth’s heavily syncopated guitar notes a funky contrast to Marin’s classical style viola, and Johansson’s utterly compelling nyckelharpa playing. Granted, the majority of the tunes may have come from the 1700s, but in Väsen’s capable hands, they sounded as if they had been penned at 17.00 hours the previous day.

An indirectly humorous bunch, too, the trio punctuated the evening’s more so-called serious music with elements from movie theme tunes; a bizarre story about some Vasen fans from Bloomington, Indiana, who are trying to have a street named after the band; plus some slapstick comedy directed at various band members’ bodily functions (scratching the viola in the wrong place can serve up all kinds of embarrassment).

A rare ability to fade out a song as if on an LP was executed to pin-dropping effect. However, what dazzled the most was the band’s skill in shifting dynamics – often, and quickly – whenever the mood took them.

Overall then, a great night’s entertainment from two sharp-contrasting outfits. While Jenna Reid upheld the traditional Scottish music flag with meticulous dexterity, it was with welcome arms that we greeted yet another fabulous Swedish import. To see both on the same stage again would be a rare treat indeed.

© Barry Gordon, 2008

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