Mike Marshall & Darol Anger with Väsen
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Mike Marshall & Darol Anger with Väsen


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"Väsen: it don't mean a thang if it ain't got that swang"

From: Sing Out! | Date: 3/22/2007 | Author: Snyder, Bill

September 28th, 2006, was a snapshot of every thing that is perfect about Väsen. That's not to say it was a defining moment in the band's career or a better gig than the one before it. For me, the concert was quintessentially Väsen by being unlike any of the dozen previous encounters I'd had with the Swedish band's performances.
The evening had all the trappings of repetition. They were playing the Nordic Roots Festival at The Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis--a venue they've played five times over the festival's eight-year existence (more than any other artist). As for the venue: "It feels good to be back here at The Cedar. I don't know how many times we've been here. I can't count that long," guitarist Roger Tallroth told the audience. A little later, he referred to the venue as "home."
The band's 18-year history has been tied together less by a consistency of sound, than by an ongoing evolution, grounded in tradition but changing through experimentation, shifts in instrumentation, and countless collaborations.
"I think [Väsen] has its roots in the joy of playing music quite freely," Tallroth says of the band's continual innovation. "The reason I'm still doing it is the immediate joy of playing what you want in real time."
You could say that Väsen is an ongoing experiment tracking 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.
Though that first recording was comprised completely of traditional tunes, the musicians were already turning heads and annoying some folk "purists" with their arrangements. All three were rooted in the fiddle tradition of Sweden's Uppland province (Tallroth plays fiddle outside of the band), they were finding 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. "I have always made the guitar playing as I've heard it in my head."
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."
Väsen was and is the trio of Tallroth, Johansson and Marin, but the trio of 2007 is not the trio of 1989; several evolutionary steps separate them. In 1994, the Väsen joined Nordman, Swedish rock musician Mats Wester's folk-pop project. The sound, with its Eurovision vibe, was huge, especially in comparison to the trio's acoustic work. So were the concert audiences, some as large as 25,000 people. In all, Väsen's participation in the project spanned two CDs, two tours and roughly two years.
Väsen went on to adopt Nordman bassist Johan Granstrom and percussionist Andre Ferrari, and played as Vasen V for a couple of years, working out arrangements, making demos, and even preparing to record an album. But as rehearsals for the album began, Granstrom departed, leaving the quartet to record their 1997 release, titled Whirled in the U.S. and Varldens Väsen in Sweden. (Three Väsen demos were released on the U.S. compilation Spirit.)
Opting for an assortment of percussion instruments over a standard kit, Ferrari brought a range of timbres and textures to the music. The incorporation of percussion also forced the band to tighten its playing, making them a tighter outfit.
"There's a certain range or 'hit area' that the music must be within in order for the g - Sing Out!

""Mike Marshall & Darol Anger With Vasen" Adventure Music"

BACK WHEN THEY WERE bandmates in the David Grisman Quintet, mandolinist Mike Marshall and fiddler Darol Anger learned that their traditional string-band instruments could take on jazz, classical and world influences as well as the expected bluegrass and country. Anger dubbed the fusion sound "new acoustic music" and continued to develop it with Marshall as a duo and in projects such as Montreux and Psychograss. Soon they discovered that musicians all over the world were pursuing a similar fusion, and now the two Americans have collaborated on an album with three Swedish musicians, "Mike Marshall & Darol Anger With Vasen."
What makes this transatlantic collaboration so exciting is that neither side abandons its native influences as they make music together. Marshall and Anger are still rooted in Appalachian music, while the three members of Vasen are rooted in Sweden's folk traditions. This is especially true of Olov Johansson, who plays the nyckelharpa, an ancient multi-string instrument. The contraption is slung horizontally at waist level; the player bows with the right hand and manipulates the 37 wooden keys and their hinged stops with the left hand.
The nyckelharpa lends a vibrating resonance to every melody and, together with Mikael Marin's viola and Roger Tallroth's 12-string acoustic guitar, casts a Scandinavian spell that sounds exotic to American ears. Marshall and Anger, meanwhile, draw on the Afro-Celtic origins of Appalachian music to add a strong, rhythmic bottom to the arrangements. There are enough differences between the two parties to create a delicious tension and enough common ground to resolve it. The music features three Marshall compositions, four Vasen compositions, a traditional American tune, a traditional Swedish tune and -- just to prove the global reach of new acoustic music -- a Brazilian choro.
This year Marshall and Anger also released "Woodshop," a CD that Anger describes as an "update and progression" from the duo's popular 1985 release, "Chiaroscuro," which explored the affinities between new acoustic music and classical chamber music. Reunited with the same bassists, Todd Phillips and Michael Manring, the leaders perform original compositions that boast chamber music's exacting architecture of theme and development. The conception and execution are impressive, but there's also enough feeling in the melodies to satisfy the heart as well as the head. -- Geoffrey Himes

- Washington Post

"Mike Marshall & Darol Anger with Väsen"

What happens when two American acoustic virtuosos combine forces with three Swedish
acoustic masters? You get Scando/American acoustic folk/jazz. According to the album notes,
“This collaboration reinforces the idea that there is a global movement towards a new kind of
folk music.” This CD is certainly at the movement’s vanguard.

Mandolinist Mike Marshall and violinist Darol Anger have been playing together since they
met in the mid ‘70’s in David Grisman’s Quintet. They were also stable-mates at Wyndam Hill Records where Marshall played on Darol Anger and Barbara Higbie’s 1982 release, Tideline. In 1984 Anger and Marshall worked together on the soundtrack of the movie Country, and in 1985 released their influential duo album Chiaroscuro. Since leaving Wyndam Hill in the early ‘90’s Marshall and Anger have released four albums on Compass Records including Brand New Can and NewGrange. In 2007 Marshall and Anger revisited material on Chiaroscuro on the Adventure Music CD, Woodshop.

The Swedish trio Väsen have released thirteen CDs since they formed in 1990. Mikael Marin
plays a five-string violino grande (similar to a viola), Olov Johansson plays a nyckelharpa (a Swedish folk violin with keyed stops), and Roger Tallroth plays a 12-string guitar. Their music combines high-energy rhythms with improvisation grounded in traditional Swedish melodies to
create thoroughly modern folk-jazz.

The Marshall/Agner duo first played with the Väsen trio in 2004 at the Lotus World Music Festival in Bloomington, Indiana. Marshall and Anger had already learned several Väsen tunes and considered themselves “fans.” On stage the two musical amalgamations meshed like perfectly machined gears. They immediately started planning to record a CD together.

So what’s their music like? It’s acoustic jazz based on folk melodies and rhythms. By acoustic jazz I don’t mean cocktail jazz. The music isn’t lethargic or overly mellow. Each tune has dynamic drive, emotional intensity, and unique rhythmic signature. Some, such as “Loke’s Troubles,”
start with a quiet introduction and build to a feverish finale. Others, like “Skridskolaten,” capture an elegant medieval contra dance-like feeling. Mike Marshall’s composition “Egypt” employs a simple repetitive melody line coupled with a slippery time pattern to achieve a Middle Eastern feeling. On the Brazilian Choro tune “Os Pintinhos,” which concludes the album, all the players go as far out on a musical limb they can crawl without falling off.

Produced by AoUF (All of US Fellas) and recorded by Dave Luke at Emeryville Studios in Emeryville, CA, this album’s sonics remind me of the best work from Acoustic Disc or Compass Records. The sound is clean, pure, and as natural as a high mountain stream. There’s just the right amount of room reverberence for a relaxed overall ambience. And even during the dynamic peaks all the instruments retain their individual character. This is the way acoustic instruments should always sound on recordings.

Buy a copy of Mike Marshall & Darol Anger with Väsen for the great sound or the great music. Either way you win. –– Steven Stone

- Vintage Guitar.com Magazine

"Mike Marshall and Darol Anger with Väsen"

The pairing of Americans -- mandolinist Mike Marshall and violinist Darol Anger -- and Swedes -- Väsen -- is a meeting of minds and styles. Both are well grounded in their native traditions, but also versed in original acoustic music. They show their breadth here, taking in traditional tunes from Sweden ("Penknife Killer") and the U.S. ("Yew Piney Mt."), along with several original pieces and a touch of Braziliana on "Os Pintinhos." There's style and wit in the music, as you'd expect from musicians this good. More interesting is the perfectly natural way they all mesh together and complement each other, finding a middle ground that's far more than a simple compromise. There's plenty of delicacy in a piece like "Forslund," but throughout the disc there's a very strong sense of melody, the stock in trade of everyone here. There's no need for anyone to be showy, and it's only at odd moments like the sly fiddle run on "Misch Masch" that you remember these are all virtuosos. So even though it doesn't particularly hew to any tradition, there's enough of a sense of the past to anchor this wonderful slice of new acoustic music. ~ Chris Nickson, All Music Guide - All Music Guide


Mandolinist Mike Marshall and violinist Darol Anger are musicians who have no respect for boundaries. Former members of the fusion group, Montreux, they've each recorded in wide ranging settings from classical to jazz, South American music to bluegrass. Marshall's Modern Mandolin Quartet and Anger's Turtle Island String Quartet were paragons of eclectic folk classicism. On this album, they team up with Väsen, the equally eclectic Swedish folk band. Collectively, they chart a new kind of folk music that draws on tradition, but finds new trajectories that posit a neoclassical world where bluegrass and polskas (not polkas) dance in aerial pirouettes. The grind of Väsen's nyckelharpa, a Swedish keyed fiddle, against the arcing flights of Anger's violin is a stunning combination. The album mixes tunes from the American duo and Swedish trio in delirious forays that feature intricate ensemble playing and unbridled improvisations. It's a study in contrasts to hear Olov Johansson's nyckelharpa trying to negotiate the swing of "Yew Piney Mt," while Anger and Marshall inject a bit of Appalachia into the Swedish tune, "Penknife Killer," trading riffs with guitarist Roger Tallroth. Anger is part Heifetz, part gypsy, and part Ponty in his improvisations, while Marshall manages an unusually introspective serenity on mandolin. Together with Väsen, they've made a CD that should be a cross-over classic. --John Diliberto - Amazon.com

"An impressionistic boundary-stretching presentation"

Stouthearted musical visionaries are the types of people who are always pushing the envelope, their foresight characterized by an extraordinary ability to discern or perceive new avenues for musical expression. In this particular case, new acousticians Marshall and Anger (The Duo) combine forces with Väsen, three new-traditionalists from Sweden (Olov Johansson, Mikael Marin, Roger Tallroth). They met at the 2004 Lotus World Music Festival in Bloomington, Indiana. Each bringing their own personalities to the table, the sum is one that collaboratively takes instrumental folk and world music in new, innovative directions. Besides exhibiting technical mastery on their respective instruments (mandolin, violin, nyckelharpa, 5-string violino grande and 12-string guitar), the album's impressionistic boundary-stretching presentation is built around a foundation of interpretive melodic twists and enchanting, dynamic arrangements.

These musical colleagues chose a variety of material for their unique set. "Yew Piney Mountain" is a traditional American piece with a winsome old-time fervor. From the traditional Swedish canon, "Penknife Killer" has a quick-paced consciousness that encourages one to jump up and dance. Marshall contributes three original compositions, while the members of Väsen penned four. I'd previously heard Mike's creative cross-cultural tune "Egypt" on his "New Words Novas Palavras" release with Hamilton de Holanda (Adventure Music AM-1029-2), but this rendition of the tune is quite different. The album's closing number, "Os Pintinhos," is a melodic and joyful Brazilian choro that reinforces the concept of transcendent string music with few constraints. I sure hope to hear even more genre-bending collaborations from these string wizards in the future. In Sweden, a listener might be compelled to ask "Vad heter det dar?" (What do you call this music?) Over here in America, the simple answer ties back to the name of Marshall's record label that gives us this rewarding enterprise .... adventure music. While not so hazardous or risky in their approach, these five musicians are certainly daring and bold with their intrepid melodious statements. (Joe Ross)

- Joe Ross for Amazon.com

"While a few of the numbers grow out of Swedish folk music, they don’t limit themselves to that area."

This unusual collaborative effort started to come together when the American duo of instrumental acoustic music were on the same stage at the Lotus World Music Festival in Indiana with the Swedish folk trio Väsen. The duo had already been playing a few of Väsen’s tunes from their CDs. Both groups felt that playing together would be a gas - honoring each of their own ethnic musical backgrounds but forging ahead toward a new global folk music landscape. This CD is the result.

These are all experienced creative musicians, and while a few of the numbers grow out of Swedish folk music, they don’t limit themselves to that area at all. There’s tracks based on traditional American folk tunes, and even the program even concludes with a Brazilian choro - appropriate since Brazilian music is the focus of the Adventure Music label. This would appeal to any lovers of acoustic instrumental string music. There are touches of bluegrass, roots music, gypsy, jazz - the liner note writer opines that perhaps a new genre of international folk music is being born. I found the sound often similar to some of the music by the Swedish group Knoa on Opus 3 Records. While I lean personally more toward the all-Brazilian offerings coming from this label, this was an enjoyable meeting of the minds among acoustic pickers and bowers.

TrackList: Loke’s Troubles, Skridskolaten, Couscous, Timo’s Jig, Penknife Killer, Egypt, Yew Piney Mt., Forslund, Misch Masch, Os Pintinhos.

- John Henry - audaud.com

"Mike Marshall, Darol Anger & Vasen"

Two newgrass elders, violinist Darol Anger and mando/multi-instrumentalist Mike Marshall, tune in and turn on with the group Vasen, one of the most dynamic bands in the modern Swedish acoustic music scene. Various 'grassers have flirted with Celtic and other European forms, so Anger and Marshall already have an affinity for the style... The debt apparently runs both ways, as the Vasen trio leaps in full throttle along with the Northern California superpickers... It's a very energetic, hurly-burly set, dominated by note-heavy improvisational flights. The repertoire is split pretty evenly between originals and traditional material brought to the table by Marshall, and originals and traditional material from Vasen's guitarist, Roger Tallroth, and violinist Mikael Marin. Acoustic music fans who like their improvs fast and furious will get a kick out of this one, and folks who are new to the Swedish sound will probably be inspired to check out other, older Vasen albums as well. - slipcue


Mike Marshall & Darol Anger Discography (joint recordings only):
2007 Mike Marshall & Darol Anger with Väsen
2007 Woodshop
2005 Now Hear This (wPsychograss)
2002 At Home and On the Range; The Duo Live
2000 Brand New Can
1999 Jam
1999 NewGrange
1998 Christmas Heritage
1996 Like Minds (wPsychograss)
1988 Let Them Say
1986 Sign Language
1985 Chiaroscuro
1984 Live at Montreux
1983 The Duo

Väsen Discography:
2007 Mike Marshall & Darol Anger with Väsen
2007 Linnaeus Väsen
2005 Live in Japan
2004 Keyed up
2003 Trio
2001 Live at the Nordic Roots Festival
1999 Gront
1997 Whirled
1997 Världens Väsen
1997 Spirit
1995 Levande Väsen (Väsen Live)
1994 Essence
1992 Vilda Väsen (Wild Väsen)
1990 Väsen



I had been told that the Nordic roots trio Väsen, especially joined by two heros of the American progressive acoustic scene, Mike Marshall and Darol Anger, would be a special performance. But I had no idea how special.

With Olov Johansson on the traditional Swedish nyckelharpa, a multi-stringed bowed instrument that produces an amazing range of sound, and Roger Tallroth on 12-string guitar and Mikael Marin on viola, they transform traditional Scandinavian folk music (somewhat akin to traditional forms from the British Isles) into sweeping improvisational sound scapes. With Marshall and Anger inciting more experimentation, their performance was my pick of most sublime set of the festival.
---Dan Ruby, www.festivalpreview.com

Two architects of new acoustic music in America, Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, join forces with Sweden's most influential instrumental ensemble, Väsen. Together, these five musicians create a new landscape of traditional sounds that forges the gap between the fiddle and dance tunes of Appalachia and the nyckelharpa and polskas of Sweden. You will discover just how small our Atlantic Ocean really is when you hear The Duo and Väsen weave together centuries old traditional forms from separate continents into such a natural fabric.

Väsen and the Duo have actually been fans of each other for many years before meeting at the Lotus World Music Festival in Bloomington, Indiana in September, 2004 (thank you, Lee Williams). Mike and Darol had already learned a few Väsen tunes from their earlier cds and were just dreaming of one day playing with these guys. So when they were thrown together on stage (at their own request of course) it was obvious to all from the first few notes that something very special was being born here; a connection based on their love for traditional music and this quest for the answer to where it might be heading.

This collaboration reinforces the idea that many musicians are beginning to feel throughout the world today; that there is a global movement towards a new kind of "folk" music potential. This, of course, has been a desire and a dream of all musicians throughout history. In fact, most of the "traditional/folk" forms that we think of today, and love, were in fact a blending of separate musical tradtions. However you define bluegrass or jazz or Cuban or Brazilian music, you are speaking of a moment in time when two or three (or more) musical forms were thrown together and ended up creating something "greater than the sum of" for all to dig: something new that we now reflect on as iconic - "traditional."

With the Duo and Väsen, you have a similar mind set about the potential for creative musicians from separate worlds to work together with joy, understanding and open hearts. The creative and respectful birth of something with roots that reach way back in time to the fathers of their music, while at the same time, pushing ahead towards something new. Something honest and true for musicians of today that reflects what folks "right here, right now" are up to, inspired by, listening to and creating together.

We think the future of our "folk" music, if you have to call it that, could not be in better hands.

Mike Marshall, bio:
Mike Marshall is one of the most accomplished and versatile acoustic musicians performing today, a master of mandolin, guitar and violin whose playing is as imaginative and adventurous as it is technically thrilling. Able to swing gracefully from jazz to classical to bluegrass to Latin styles, he puts his stamp on everything he plays with an unusually potent blend intellect, humor and emotion  a combination of musical skill and versatility rare in the world of American instrumentalists.

Now living in Oakland, California, Mike grew up in Central Florida, where throughout his teens he played and taught bluegrass mandolin, fiddle and guitar. In 1979, at the age of 19, he was invited to join the original David Grisman Quintet in the SF Bay Area. That association quickly lead to his recording and touring with some of the top names in acoustic music today including Tony Rice, Mark O’ Connor, Stephane Grappelli, Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer.

Mike has since played on hundreds of acoustic-music recordings both as a featured artist and performer. His 1982 CD, Gator Strut, is a classic example of a new generation of bluegrass virtuoso instrumentalists forging new directions in American instrumental music.

Today Mike can be heard on the Car Talk soundtrack recording every week on NPR along with Earl Scruggs, David Grisman and Tony Rice. In addition Mike composed and recorded the theme music for the San Francisco based radio program Forum heard daily on KQED radio.

One of his more recent CDs is a mandolin duet project with Chris Thile from the group Nickel Creek, entitled Into The Cauldron, on Sugar Hill records. This CD was listed in the top ten of Amazon.com's favorite recordings for 2003.

In 1983, Mike and violinist