Steve's Blog
Wednesday August 31, 2011

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Hi everyone

I'm back from the U.K. I went there for my Aunt Joan's funeral, and stayed for a coupe of weeks to help sort out her affairs, pack up all her goods and chattels, and decide what should be done with them. It wasn't all doom and gloom, by any means - although the weather was pretty gloomy most of the time. There were some enjoyable family get-togethers as well, and I attended two incredible Manchester United games - 3-0 against Spurs and 8-2 v Arsenal - what a fantastic experience!! I had also planned to attend the Shrewsbury Folk Festival last weekend, but the weather was so appalling and there was much to do at home, and besides, the festival - which has become one of the most prestigious in the U.K. since relocating from Bridgnorth a few years ago - broadcast its main stage live on the internet. So I was able to see some bands, and hear others (my T-Mobile Internet Stick didn't always provide enough bandwidth to handle video as well as audio.) Highlights included The Imagined Village (with Eliza Carthy, but not her Dad, Martin) Oysterband (with June Tabor, Winnipeg's Leonard Podolak, and uilleann piper James O'Grady joining the band for the bulk of their set,) Show of Hands, and a Geordie blues guitarist called Johnny Dickinson. On the way home yesterday who should I bump into at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport? None other than local fiddle wizard Jesse Zubot, who was heading out on a short tour with Dan Mangan. Small world.

1. Vasen, Friday September 2nd, 8pm, at St. James Hall, 3214 West 10th Avenue

The Rogue is a big part of Vancouver's "window on world music" this weekend, with the visit of Swedish group Vasen on Friday night. at St. James Hall. Ever since seeing them at the Folk Alliance in Albuquerque back in 1999 I've wanted to bring this band to The Rogue. They performed at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival a couple of years ago with Mike Marshall and Darol Anger, but that, for me, isn't their optimal presentation. Seeing these three brilliant musicians and hearing the way they blend together to create their own, unique approach to traditional music is one of the best ways for any music lover - of any musical style - to spend a Friday evening!

The Swedish trio might bestow a name that sounds like something bought from IKEA you put flowers in, but they also sound like one of the best folk acts in the world today. (Celtic Connections Festival Review, Glasgow)

There's a rumour among musicians that these guys are the best band in the world ... It's no joke (Darol Anger, renowned fiddle player from California)

I think [Väsen] has its roots in the joy of playing music quite freely, 12-string guitarist Roger Tallroth says of the band's continual innovation. The reason I'm still doing it is the immediate joy of playing what we want - in real time.

You could say that Väsen is an ongoing experiment dating back to 1989 and a house in Roros, Norway, where a group of musicians gathered. There, Tallroth met nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson. who suggested they jam and see how their instruments would sound together. As the band likes to tell the story, Tallroth declined, opting to take a shower instead. Fortunately, the shower was occupied, and they ended up jamming for a couple of hours. Shortly alter that meeting, Johansson set to work on a solo album, bringing Tallroth and fiddler/viola player Mikael Marin, a childhood friend, along to record with him. The album, released in 1990, was titled Väsen, a word whose meanings include spirit, essence and noise. It could have ended there, with an Olov Johansson solo album, but when requests to book the band Väsen came in, they decided to give it a go.

All three members have roots in the fiddle tradition of Sweden's Uppland province but they found their collective voice in the arrangements. Indeed, their instrumentation alone was a departure from folk tradition, regardless of the repertoire. "We are not traditional," Johansson explains matter-of-factly. "There were no traditional bands with 12-string guitar and viola." Tallroth takes responsibility for his share of the rancor. "My guitar playing has too many strange chords and rhythms," he acknowledges.

In 1992, they pushed farther into uncharted territory with Vilda Väsen (Wild Vasen), their first proper album as a band and the trio's first foray into the original compositions that have marked its repertoire since. Where some great bands feature the interplay of distinct musical voices, Vasen is three musicians who speak as one every chord fits, without excess playing or extra space. "You blend together and form another shape," Tallroth says. "The three voices form into one."

If you haven't heard them, it may help to imagine a mammoth six-armed player plucking, strumming and bowing a few dozen strings. Responding to the six-armed monster theory, Johansson laughs, "We always try to sound like an orchestra, and we do have a lot of strings."

Over the years Vasen have collaborated with a wide variety of musicians, including the great Irish band Dervish and American "New Acoustic" / bluegrass / folk / jazz music legends Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. They have also expanded to a quartet (with bass or hand percussion) and even a quintet (with both) but they returned to the trio format in 2003, incorporating many of the innovations they had learned along the way, but also freeing themselves to weave their magical unison playing together once again.

When asked what makes Vasen's music so special and unique, Johansson states: "It's the way we play together. It's really tight, but still swinging and everyone in the band can change the swing and the dynamics, because everyone is listening. When I'm playing in other settings, it's hard to reach that point." After thinking a bit, he decides that "swing" wasn't exactly what he meant, and reaches for the Swedish swang, which literally means to swing, vibrate, and rotate. "For me, music has to swing or groove or I get really sad," he adds.

Listening to them talk about each other, it becomes clear that their roles in the band match their personalities. "I have something inside all the time when I'm playing," Johansson says. "I have a direction in the melody. It's on the move, and it has to groove all the time. And then Roger, he's this guy with all these ideas making all these comments all the time, around the melody. And Mikael, he's a bit of a diplomat. He's developed a fantastic ability to be in between the melody and the bass lines and chords Roger creates. He's trained for over 20 years not to collide." He then adds with a laugh, "I guess we play like we are."

I know it's a long weekend, and it's back to school on Tuesday for many of you and / or your families, but why not forego the PNE crowds and come on down to The Rogue to experience one of the finest acoustic bands on the planet? We guarantee you will be stunned, amazed, delighted, thrilled to bits, and entertained quite magnificently by these three Swedish music giants. Tickets are available online as well as at Highlife Records, and Rufus' Guitar Shop. You can also reserve on the Rogue Hotline 604-736-3022. They will also be available at the door, but please try to book in advance so we have a better idea how to set up the seating - and dancing space!

2. The Edge On Folk, Saturday 8am to noon, on CiTR fm 101.9 and

Then please join me on Saturday morning for four hours of the best in Roots Music from all around the world as I return to CiTR for my first radio show in weeks (it feels like months!! I'm suffering withdrawal. Please help me get over it!) That's Saturday, 8am to noon.

3. Contra Dance, Saturday September 3, 8pm, St. James Hall

There's an extra special Contra Dance on Saturday night, too. It's Brian Hayden's swan song as a member of The Sybaritic Stringband, so there'll definitely be a party mood and some wonderful food to share. Doors open at 7:30pm at St. James Hall, and the dancing lasts till 11.

Have a great weekend (preferably a Rogueish one!)