Väsen, Linnaeus Väsen (Northside, 2007)

According to the Väsen Web site, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame said in Dagens Industri Weekend (May 19-20 2006), 'In Sweden you have Väsen. It's a traditional folk band based on the Nyckelharpa, and it's really good music, very exciting, you must listen, it's fantastic music.' Indeed John Paul Jones is right -- it is fantastic music, live or recorded.

Barb Truex saw the same concert that my wife and I attended at Kresge Auditorium, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, almost six years ago. Of the concert, she noted 'these three musicians have obviously been playing together for a long time. They have that unspoken musical understanding that allows them to move through the music seemingly with little effort while at the same time expressing huge amounts of emotion. And their sense of humor put the audience at ease immediately -- they are very funny fellows, especially when it comes to explaining to Americans the Swedish obsession with polskas (not polkas, those are different). In fact, the running joke for the evening was that almost everything from Sweden is a polska. That might actually be true, but those Nordic types certainly know how to vary the accents in that 3/4 time signature! It's also always a pleasure to watch performers who are having a great time doing what they do.'

Väsen as a touring group in North America travel sans percussion so the trio is Mikael Marin on viola, Roger Tallroth on 12-string guitar and Olov Johansson on nyckelharpa. But for the first time in nearly eight years, percussionist André Ferrari went into the recording studio with the rest of Väsen, and this brilliant new CD is now available for our listening pleasure.

The concept for this CD is centered around the renowned 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the system of scientific nomenclature used in modern biology. Described by biographers as having no ear at all for music even though he came from a family of musicians, Linnaeus was, though not a musician, a rather good dancer of polskas. It is worth stressing that the majority of the tunes performed here have at least a minor connection to him. Would he recognize these tunes? Most likely. Indeed 'Carl Linnaeus Polonaise' which leads off the album was composed for him by his brother-in-law, Gabriel Höök. Cool. eh?

I'm writing this while enjoying a fresh baked blueberry muffin (with real butter) and a damn fine cup of coffee (with a splash of cream) at Arabic Cafe in downtown Portland, Maine. That means I can't tell you which Väsen recordings are sans percussion and which are not. What I can tell you, dear reader, is that we own everything Väsen's released, including some Swedish only recordings which were so damn hard to find that I thought I'd need Orient from Emma Bull's Finder novel help in locating them. Everything on Linnaeus Väsen is quite listenable -- the percussion here is done just right. And the boys are very much at the top of their game on this recording!

Linnaeus Väsen is a fine introduction to a band that has more than enough recordings to keep you enjoying fresh music for quite some time to come. Don't believe me? Just go listen to this recording of 'Carl Linnaeus polonaise' from this album. Cool, isn't it?

[Cat Eldridge]