Vasen - Trio
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cd cover After two driving quartet recordings for Xource/Northside, the Swedish instrumental folk band revert back to a percussionless three-piece, and stay in touch with the original flavors of their earliest albums for Drone Records. Väsen the quartet and the trio have distinguishing qualities. The latter presents Swedish acoustic music in a somewhat bolder, contemporary light, while the former touches what feels like an older, gentler Sverige. In 2003, the Väsen trio lean less heavily on arranged standards from the tune rich Uppland region just north of Stockholm, but instead contribute to tradition with a majority of original waltzes, polskas and marches.

Olov Johansson, former student of the legendary Eric Sahlstrom, remains the heart of the group, and it is his clear, vividly intoned nyckelharpa (key fiddle) and comfortable pace that compellingly carry a bucolic past into modern time. Michael Marin, whose background includes orchestral and chamber music, adds complimentary refinements to Johansson with artful subtlety. Roger Tollroth is the rhythm section and the special ingredient that makes the music flow with distinction. Together the three continue to play with disarming ease, relaying simplicity and complexity, the tricky and the attractive, without ever a trace of bravado, all at the same time.

On Trio, it is Marin and Tollroth who have done most of the writing/arranging and prove they too are every bit as woven into traditional Swedish vernacular as the seminal Johansson. Elements of antic wit and trollish shadow have always been part of the working repertoire, and they appear here in the winking "Norska Brader" (Norwegian Boards) and the emotional ambiguities of "Vilse i Betlandet" (Lost in the Sugar Beet Field) and "Drakseppet" (The Dragonship). The more colorful material now seems to be giving way to a preponderance of kinder, more tender concerns. With children of their own and midlife approaching, the quiet side of life is portrayed with deep gratitude on more than a handful of tunes, such as the wedding marches "Ulfsunda" and "Wesslens," the lullaby "Clara's Waltz" and a superior new treatment of "Johsefin's Baptism Waltz." The last four offer moving, even aching, beauty, and are unparalleled by anything Väsen have yet recorded.

Their first American label studio album and their seventh overall of new material, Trio is an enhanced CD with two video clips, plus additional information about the band. Väsen ('spirit' or 'essence') were actually controversial at their inception when an innovatively-tuned acoustic guitar joined the ancient nyckelharpa and a viola. But the perenially fine tunes and assured playing of Trio show that the band has always been and remains aptly named, and here, aging quite well. - Steve Taylor

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