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Written in fRoots issue 273, 2006

Live in Japan

NorthSide NSD 6087

The Swedish nyckelharpa/viola/guitar trio Väsen are a live band par excellence, so a live album makes sense. This isn’t their first of those, in fact it’s their third, but what makes this one so well worth having, apart from the fact that they play excellently in a set including new pieces and older tunes, as ever, reinterpreted, is the bonus DVD, Väsen So Far (1989-2005).
      It’s not glitzy, nor puffy, nor a film of the show, it’s a perfect and inspiring example of how video can be used quite simply and inexpensively but to great effect in roots music. In over an hour of DVD nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson and 12-string guitarist Roger Tallroth talk (in English) about the history of the band, through trio, Nordman, Väsen 5, the quartet and back to the trio, and about its collaborations with JPP, Annbjørg Lien, Dervish and Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, all intercut with video clips. In one section they show and explain the process of writing, arrangement, rehearsal and performance of two tunes including Tallroth’s very popular Johsefins Dopvaltz (with video of them playing it in Minneapolis with Anger, Marshall and Frigg, and shots of Johsefin herself). In the final section Johansson explains and demonstrates the nyckelharpa.
      I used to feel that the problem with the video was that you have to sit and watch it, whereas with just audio you can be doing something else, and one wonders how many times people play a DVD as against a CD. But this is a free bonus to the normal-priced CD, and a single viewing, chapter by chapter if time doesn’t permit a full view-through, is all it takes to lead one to hearing and enjoying the music in a different way, just as would going to a gig or spending time with the band.
      Fact is, virtually all roots musicians and their musical environments are more interesting than a bunch of unwitty youths parked on a sofa or making samey old rock poses in smoke and blue light. Concert films, unless intercut with plenty of background, can be really dull on TV, but roots music is perfect for video. The quality of small cameras makes capturing the footage easy and non-disruptive, and intelligent editing doesn’t need to be expensive. More CD/DVD packages like this and the recent brilliant one from Taraf de Haïdouks, plus a few more similarly inside-the-music TV programmes to spread the news, and there are a lot of people who could find that roots music is far, far more cool and fascinating than they thought it was.

© 2005 Andrew Cronshaw

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