Swedish folk-roots group Vasen now appears with two lineups, the original trio formed in 1989 by nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson, viola player Mikael Marin and guitarist Roger Tallroth as well as, the quartet with percussionist Andre Ferrari (1996).
Trio, appropriately titled marks a minimalist setup that offers complex musical arrangements in which the instruments are seamlessly interwoven into an aural tapestry. And like other groups that honor Swedish folk music such as Frifot, the songs on Trio also feature waltzes, polkas and even a wedding march composed for “a couple that desperately wanted to get married,” (The Ulfsunda Wedding March). While Frifot (another trio) spotlights fiddler Lena Willemark’s illustrious vocal talents, Vasen’s focus often falls on to the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish instrument performed by the champion player, Johansson. That’s not to say that Marin and Tallroth’s talents aren’t appreciated since the synergy between guitar, viola and nyckelharpa as well as, the three performers seen on the CD ROM live performance (enhanced CD) create an atmosphere of sheer delight and innovative musicianship. After all the music they compose and perform is nothing short of a brain teaser.
In the past, when I saw photographs of the group, I would notice their stern facial expressions further enhanced by black somber clothing. My initial thought at the time was that I would be listening to music composed by sons of pastors and farmers with the Protestant work ethic tossed in for good measure. However, Vasen’s music often explores whimsical territory. Take for instance the gleeful wink and nod, Play Tag in Church or any of the valentines (tributes) to friends and family members that appear on Trio. Johansson composed Clara’s Waltz as a lullaby for his daughter. Tallroth wrote Fiddler’s Trap for one of his guitar students as well as, Tuning Bug to check the tuning on his guitar (he plays a 12 string guitar).
Many of the songs range from lyrical pastoral to lively toe-tappers. And upon each listen, the beauty of the songs seep out little by little until listener’s ears surrender to their magic.
And despite all the enchantment, I find myself drawn to the nyckelharpa. It is one of the most striking Scandinavian instruments next to the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele). Also called the keyed fiddle, the nyckelharpa slightly resembles the hurdy-gurdy (another instrument that has found a home in Scandinavian music), but the strings on the nyckelharpa are bowed instead of
played with a wheel and crank system. And the melody is played on a series of keys, something both instruments have in common. Sympathetic strings and a drone string create a buzzing sound, but unlike the hurdy-gurdy, the nyckelharpa sounds more like a fiddle than bagpipes. In the expert hands of Johansson, the nyckelharpa transforms into a musical treasure chest further embellished by
Tallroth’s guitar/bouzouki and Marin’s 5-string viola.
(Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music).