(NorthSide, 1997)

Vasen is one of the top groups in Nordic music. The group weds a love of traditional music with venturesome musicianship and high energy. Vasen's concerts showcase brilliant acoustic music and a droll sense of humor. Spirit, a 1997 release, is a wonderful compilation with which to sample Vasen's magic.

Most of the 20 cuts on Spirit date from the days before percussionist Andre Ferrari joined the band. The lineup is all strings; Olov Johansson on nyckelharpa, Mikael Marin on viola and Roger Tallroth on guitar. Five tracks are previously unreleased. NorthSide has done a great job of selecting a generous variety of pieces to introduce listeners to Vasen; the music runs for over 70 minutes.

The previously released tracks are from the albums Vasen, Vilda Vasen, Essence and Levande Vasen; two of the new cuts are collaborations with Norwegian fiddler Anon Egeland while the other three are demos with Ferrari and bassist Johan Granstrom supporting the Vasen trio.

Vasen's distinctive flavor is owed in large part to the nyckelharpa, or "keyed fiddle" as it is sometimes known; it is indigenous to Sweden. Johansson, one of the instrument's masters, plays both the contemporary chromatic nyckelharpa and an older form that is called the kontrabasharpa. "Pennknivsmordaren (The Pen-knife Murderer)" is one track that showcases the kontrabasharpa's harsh tone. Tallroth's guitar is the rhythm section, while Marin's viola snakes unpredictably between the other instruments.

In addition to traditional numbers (many cuts were inspired by nyckelharpa master Byss-Kalle's versions of the tunes), the members of Vasen have composed original pieces that grow out of the tradition but are not limited by it. Tallroth's beautiful "Josefins Dopvals (Josefin's Baptism Waltz)" is already making its way into the popular repertoire; I've heard its strains drifting from an American folk festival dance tent.

This is an essential recording for anyone interested in Nordic music. Vasen has done an enormous amount to popularize Sweden's traditional music (even riding the Swedish pop charts with the group Nordman), but the group is also a terrific and innovative acoustic music ensemble. Spirit is full of spirit, and is recommended to anyone in search of great music.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 19 June 2004

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