A modern-day kōan would ask what is the nature of VÖ’s music. The debut double album of the Swedish-Greek VÖ sextet, The Sounds of VÖ, provides many answers – free improvising and experimental, spiritual and meditative folk music that evokes Scandinavian and Greek overtones, updated version of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Pakistani qawwali music, and sparse, minimalist drones. These answers offer only a glimpse into the sound universe of VÖ.
Keyboard player Alex Zethson, who plays here on pump organ and piano (and also heading the Thanatosis produktion label), assembled the VÖ sextet – violinist Eva Lindal, alto sax player Anna Högberg, double bass player Johan Berthling, cellist Leo Svensson Sander, and Greek guitarist Giannis Arapis – for a day-long session at Daniel Bengtson’s homey Studio Rymden in Stockholm in late March of 2021. All the musicians are experienced improvisers and all, except Arapis, have collaborated before on other projects, in particular, Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra. Arapis was in Stockholm to work with another ensemble led by Zethson. Zethson did not offer any guiding map for the recording session, and there was very little discussion beforehand, although Zethson did play the core of «Landsort 1916», a theme he originally wrote for the 1917 silent film Terje Vigen, with the others improvising upon its form, but none of the musicians ever heard it before the tape started rolling.
The outcome is elusive but highly suggestive. There will be no definite answer to the VÖ’s kōan, but just the suchness of its stark and enigmatic beauty. The spontaneous, patient and conversational dynamics, illustrate the immediate and deep rapport these players immediately felt. The music sounds untimely, with its own distinct and unpredictable communal tone, and its own manner of building and releasing subtle tension. Högberg was able to spend a bit more than an hour in the studio so she appears only in a few short pieces in the first lyrical and spiritual disc, but contributes to the melancholic and mournful «Let whatever is sounded be returned to the ground». The second disc offers a loose and sparse interplay, in smaller formats and with shorter pieces that probe the delicate, overlapping sonorities of the acoustic instruments. The cover art of jewelry artist Silje Lingås deepens the sensual, mysterious sounds of VÖ.
Eva Lindal (vio), Anna Högberg (as), Johan Berthling (b), Leo Svensson Sander (c), Alex Zethson (p, pump organ), Giannis Arapis (g)