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October Ocean

Playing With Music
Reviews by Lee Blackstone

Here's three different Nordic bands that practice different approaches to traditional and composed acoustic music. Väsen and Zephyr hail from Sweden and they are made up of veteran folk musicians, while Vrang is Norwegian and represents a younger generation. All are unique and wonderful artistic trios.

Väsen surely needs no introduction after twenty-eight years together; Brewed is the band's seventeenth album under the name. Olov Johansson is the virtuosic nyckelharpa player; Roger Tallroth anchors the group on guitar; and Mikael Marin sets dreams adrift on his viola. This time out, Väsen treat listeners to a collection of original tunes. All the hallmarks of Väsen's glorious sound are in place, and I cannot think of another group that so successfully blends dark and light passages in their material. For example, take the sweet “Ellis & Andrés Bröllospssvit,” written for a wedding.

Listen "Ellis & Andrés Bröllospssvit"

The tune begins in a light, airy step, utterly breathtaking; but then, Väsen cannot resist picking up the pace, spinning into a rock-ish – slightly raucous – celebratory mood. The light and dark contrast also comprises “Hogmarkar'n,” which moves from a deep stomping tune to arcs of playfulness. What remains so joyful and surprising about Väsen is how the instruments intertwine, run in tandem, and veer off into unexpected time signatures, all while paying homage to the traditions of Swedish folk music. “Stråkmakarns Polska” is a fine example of Väsen's mastery of dynamics – Johansson and Marin ride the scales up into the stratosphere, dodging and flitting in a manner that makes Swedish folk music sound so magical and other-worldly. “Trostemarsch” is more stately, and it tugs at the heartstrings. And again, what makes Väsen so notable for this listener is that they have the singular ability to dazzle with ecstatic and intricate instrumental runs (as on “Tiomiljonerspolskan”), but they also have such a timeless sound that I find myself instantly nostalgic for what I have just heard. Brewed is a fantastic addition to Väsen's already essential catalog of music.


Zephyr is another Swedish group, this time configured not of string instruments, but of flutes. Görån Mansson, Jonas Simonson (from Groupa), and Richard Ekre Suzzi utilize a variety of wind instruments from Sweden and afar, such as the bamboo Bansuri flute. An all-flute trio can certainly have an ethereal sound, as the band demonstrates on “Blow My Fear,” but Zephyr go well beyond such stereotyping and they construct compositions that indulge in world music influences. Zephyr are also a remarkably percussive group, as evidenced on the opening “Char Bungalow.” The melodic washes are undergirded by deep tones that, combined, lend a slightly Asian air to the tune.

Listen "Polska Amrutvarshini"

Indian textures are apparent on the fascinating “Polska Amrutvarshini,” a peaceful atmosphere that is riven with the drive of the sub-bass recorder. “Gurukul” toys with an Indian scale, and then surprisingly drops into a bluesy vibe. “Mumbai 8 pm” also nods towards India, as well, but via a pensive and mysterious ambience. On October Ocean, Zephyr make a compelling and intriguing showcase for the power and universality of, and experimentation possible with, wind instruments.



The Norwegian trio Vrang features Jon Hjellum Brodal, Tuva Faerden, and Maja Gravermoen Toresen on hardanger fiddles, fiddles, lyres, and the occasional mandolin. Their full-length debut, SæterSoul, is beautifully produced, with plenty of space and depth that let the low mellow tones of the hardanger fiddle grow and the sprightly lyres shine. Vrang are notable in that they combine a minimalist approach and a sly pop sensibility; “Lille Måltrost,” with a text that dates to the early twentieth century, is like a Norwegian Appalachian-style lullaby. “Bulgarske Føtter” begins with a lovely interlacing of vocals – not really Bulgarian, but more like an arty Puppini Sisters paired with an Eastern European flavor.

Listen "Butternut Squash/Raska På"

Elsewhere, they remind the listener of the Swedish ensemble Groupa's vast influence on Nordic music; tunes such as “Vriompeisen” and “Play The Butternut Squash/Raska På!” nod to their coloring and percussive romps. Vrang sparkle, and they are a band full of promise.

Three trios, with three excellent and varied albums that provide a showcase for the cutting-edge acoustic music from the North. Each sets its own mood, and each satisfies with its own distinct identity. – Lee Blackstone

These CDs are available from cdRoots.
Vrang's SæterSoul is RootsWorld's Music of the Month selection and
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Vrang's SæterSoul is our
Music of the Month for May , 2017.

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All three CDs are available from cdRoots.  



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