Väsen, Linnaeus Väsen (NorthSide, 2007)

The Swedish folk group Väsen began their career in the early nineties as a trio, with Olav Johansson playing most of the melodies on a Medieval keyed fiddle called a nyckelharpa, Mikael Marin providing counterpoint on the viola, and Roger Tallroth supplying rhythm on the twelve-string guitar. They quickly developed a very dedicated following among fans of the traditional fiddle music of Sweden, due largely to the tremendous on-stage musical chemistry between the three members. Väsen soon found themselves in the vanguard of the new Nordic folk movement, which brought contemporary interpreters of Scandinavian music around the world to audiences for whom the styles of music had, up to that point, been largely unfamiliar. Near the end of the decade Väsen decided to expand their sound by adding percussion, and André Ferrari was brought into the fold. Purists might not have known what to make of Ferrari, but Väsen's 1997 CD Whirled remains one of the definitive albums of the new Nordic folk genre, and their live shows were nothing short of superb. Ferrari balked at extensive traveling in the aftermath of 9/11, though, and Väsen have spent most of this decade recording and performing as the original trio. But for the first time in eight years, Ferrari went into the recording studio with the rest of Väsen, and the new CD Linnaeus Väsen is the result.

The concept for the new CD, curiously, revolves around the renowned eighteenth century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the system of scientific nomenclature used in modern biology. Described by biographers as having "no ear for music," Linnaeus nevertheless came from a family of musicians and was an avid dancer of polskas. Most of the tunes performed on this CD have some connection to Linnaeus, and would have likely been recognized by him. In fact, the opening tune "Carl Linnaeus Polonaise" was composed for him by his brother-in-law, Gabriel Höök.

The music on Linnaeus Väsen maintains the same high standard that the band have always set for themselves, whether as a trio or a quartet. As before, Ferrari makes his presence most strongly felt on the more energetic pieces. The highlight for me is "Grevilius' Polonaise," a polska taken from the notebook of a prominent fiddler from Linnaeus' home village of Växjö during the time Linnaeus would have been attending secondary school. This particular piece has a strong melody that lends itself well to the kind of dynamic shifts at which the band has always excelled. Ferrari's ominous pounding propels a breathtaking set of marches from the playing of Linnaeus' great uncle, Sven Tiliander. The brilliant interplay of the viola and percussion underneath the melody on "Söderblom's Polska" showcases the band's willingness and ability to innovate with traditional music.

Some people might be partial to the trio version of Väsen over the quartet, but while they've always been fantastic in concert regardless of which line-up I've seen, I always felt that the quartet did a better job of matching their live energy on disc. In that regard, Linnaeus Väsen picks up right where Whirled and 1999's Gront left off. Long-time fans of the band shouldn't need my recommendation to go out and get this, but anybody unfamiliar with the folk music of Sweden will find this an enjoyable introduction.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

No comments: