Sweden's Väsen have made a bold move with their fifth album, Whirled. Recognizing perhaps that they had reached the limits of the keyed fiddle-viola-guitar format of traditional and original Swedish folk music, they have brought aboard a percussionist, the versatile Andre Ferrari. This is in itself a breaking of the bounds of traditional Swedish music whose most common rhythmic accompaniment is the fiddler's own stomping foot. In addition, every song on the album is an original, with all members of the group composing. Previously, almost half the group's material had been traditionals. The quartet still builds on a Swedish folk base, but they reach out to other traditions, with songs sounding in turn vaguely Middle Eastern to vaguely jazzy. A move such as Väsen has made could result in a triumph or a disaster. Far too often world music acts throw too many ingredients into the pot, and the resulting mixture sounds like everything in general and nothing in particular. Happily it can be reported that that has not happened on Whirled. The tune "Bambodansarna" ("The Bamboo Dancers") picks up on the group's predilection for a tribal feeling and gives us a dramatic and percussive ritual song with an all-male chant as an interlude. "Nitti Pomfritti" ("90 French Fries") opens with a delicate, almost melancholy percussion motif and builds slowly to a kind of crazy-up-all-night intensity. "Till Farmor" ("To Grandma") is the kind of sad and tender tune that guitarist Roger Tallroth is known for. Tallroth's three compositions on the album are by far the most traditional things on it. But his playing is anything but conservative, as instead of playing his usual guitar, he breaks out with a 12-string, a Swedish bouzouki, and an octave mandolin. A cello, played by Mats Olofsson, is also brought aboard for three numbers. Despite the new variety of influences and instruments, Whirled holds together remarkably well. The group clearly worked long and hard on integrating Andre Ferrari into the mix and worked just as hard as assembling material that was expansive without being eclectic. This album represents a new frontier for world music.
by Kurt Keefner