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Isn’t coincidence a funny thing? Only the other night I turned to my wife and said regretfully: "You know, there just doesn't seem to be anyone playing decent nyckelharpa tunes anymore." Imagine then my astonishment and glee when Peter Puma Hedlund's CD dropped through the post. Lo and behold!—an album filled to the brim with no less that 22 nyckelharpa tunes. My ship had come in.

Peter is from Sweden and his album is called "Vägen" (The Way.) The album comprises of self-compositions as well as traditional tunes that Peter has arranged for the nyckelharpa. He has kindly provided some line notes to each track. Upon reading his comments for Track 1 ("Älgmarschen"/"Moose March"), I found myself nodding vociferously in agreement with Peter's contention that, "there's a shortage of good moose hunting tunes." In Manchester we have to make do with Franz Ferdinand when tracking elk.

I don't know where Peter gets all his energy from. When he's not writing new tunes for the nyckelharpa, teaching the nyckelharpa or out shooting moose while listening to the nyckelharpa on his walkman, he likes nothing more than to kick his heels to a good polska or a waltz, even the odd march. And he possesses an infectious sense of humour. On Track 7 ("Sallämnar'n"/"He Who Leaves The Room"), my wife and I were reduced to a fit of giggles when we read Peter's anecdotal story about how the tune got its name. Apparently Peter was playing it on stage when one of his students left the hall as he began and came back just after he'd finished! I can't wait to tell that one to the boys up at the hunting lodge.

—"Different Drum," Whisperin & Holleri
www.whisperinandhollerin.com

I am a HUGE fan of Scandinavian folk music so was delighted to have been sent these CDs by nyckelharpa player Peter Puma Hedlund. For the uninitiated, a nyckelharpa is a Swedish instrument rather like a fiddle, but with keys, and strapped around the player like a guitar instead of being played under the chin.

Vägen ("The Way" or "The Road" in Swedish) is a recording of solo nyckelharpa. In the sleeve notes Peter states the nyckelharpa is usually played as part of a group nowadays, and whilst he thinks this is good, there are aspects of its sound which go unnoticed when played with other instruments, and he wanted to make this CD to show how beautiful a single nyckelharpa can sound. He has certainly achieved that, with this collection of mostly traditional tunes and a handful of new compositions in the traditional style. Various types of traditional tune are represented here - polska, schottis, vals (waltz), gånglåt (walking tune), marsch (march), all played with astounding virtuosity. If you're one of those who dismisses folk music as raw and amateurish, I suggest you listen to Peter Puma Hedlund, who plays with the skill of a classical musician (this is not uncommon for folk musicians in the Nordic countries, I have found. Many of them are classically trained. Not sure about Peter Puma Hedlund, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was). The tunes themselves often hint at classical melodies, for example Polska Mot Trötthet (I translated this as "Polska Against Tiredness"; "Polska for Exhaustion" it says on the inside cover so I wasn't far wrong), but despite this, it is still undoubtedly folk music. One of the tracks here is Slängpolska efter Byss-Calle, but not the more well known one as performed by Väsen, JPP and even Eliza Carthy. The latter played it as part of a medley on the Rice album, except she didn't call it by its real name, just referred to it as "Swedish". I have a lot of respect for Eliza Carthy and think it's excellent that she recorded that piece, but just wish she'd have credited it with its correct title!

I can highly recommend both of these albums. I'm sure I'll be listening to these for a long time to com.

—Kim Harten
issue 24, www.blissaquamarine.net
summer 2004

You can find me in the Hardcore Rap section all day, but when it's time to get away from the stress and drama, this is the music that saves my soul from collapsing. It elevates me far from this depressing world. You have a fortunate talent Peter and I will definitely be purchasing me a copy.

—Razae, Chicago, West Side
comment posted on CDbaby.com

 

Peter plays the nyckelharpa ... and on this album, he has the opportunity to fully showcase his talent ... While the nyckelharpa is more and more often found in Swedish folk bands, for my taste, the nyckelharpa deserves to be listened to on its own merit. The instrument has a very full, gentle and subtle sound, with a bit of a classical touch—its sound actually reminds at times of a string duet. Peter masters the instrument beautifully, playing a mixture of traditional Swedish tunes and music composed by himself or other composers. A beautiful, calm and gentle album, just the right thing for a quiet evening, ideally with a candle light dinner. Recommended!

—Michael Moll, www.folkworld.de, Issue 28, 04/2004 

Vägen is almost overwhelming. I keep playing it over and over. ... This CD is so perfect and  amazing. Thank you. ... The music has such a plain spoken majestic quality. I have never heard these tunes and melodies but they immediately felt familiar and comfortable to me.

 —Mike Heffner, Muncy, Pennsylvania

... and a REAL BIG "thank you" for VAGEN ... the solo CD—this is sure the REAL THING!!! ... wonderful! ... this is like *classical music*!! ... airplay guaranteed!

—Lord Litter / DJ, Promoter, Musician
Germany, www.lordlitter.de

I enjoyed so much reviewing both of the cds you were nice enough to send ... melted in my ears ... & being the host of a variety show ... a wonderful addition from a foremost master ... will be airing on my shows, & if interested, below a few select global djs who might consider mailing to as well....just tell 'em Eddie sent you. Thanks again ... was a major pleasure.

Eddie Russell, Outlaw for Peace Radio Show,Texas

Hearing Peter Puma Hedlund for the first time was similar to the feeling I had when I heard Eric Sahlstrom for the first time. They both bring out the many rich and subtle tones from deep within the depths of the nyckelharpa, and from the slow tunes I heard Peter play here, perhaps due also to the choice of such tunes, there are sounds which sang here, which I never even heard from Eric Sahlstrom. Similar to Eric Sahlstrom, he has a way of gliding through the tunes, while conjuring up the delicately subtle, as well as the deeply rich tones at just the right moments. He also, of course, has character in his playing, and it is, after all, the tender emotions expressed, which ultimately draw us closer to the music. It is certainly a pleasure to hear him play.

—Brian D. Gould, Canada

I love your "Vägen" CD so much I'm going to feature it on the FRONT PAGE of CD Baby for a few days. We're REALLY picky about what goes on the front page. We get about 75 new albums a DAY coming in here now . . . and yours is one of the best I've ever heard.

—Derek Sivers / CD Baby

It's a new year and time to try new things, push yourself a little, open your mind just a crack. If you have never heard of the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish instrument that has evolved over a course of 600 years, and in sound, resembles a fiddle, there is no better time than the present to learn something. Made up of 16 strings including 3 melody strings, one drone string, and 12 sympathetic vibration strings, this is truly a fascinating instrument with a familiar and yet uniquely sweet sound. Peter presents both traditional and contemporary compositions, all of which speak from pure, elegant charm. Absolutely a delightful album.

—CD Baby, www.cdbaby.com

I suspect some hunting lodge will, before long, adopt the Moose March for its very own. In this tune one can hear and feel the cold crisp air of the hunt, the tension of knowing that at any moment the moose may come crashing through the thicket, and then the secure manly pulse as the steaming fresh kill is dragged along the logging trail. I’ll bet Puma’s playing could lure a moose right out into the open!

At a time of experimentation and searching within the Swedish folk music genre, when instruments, styles, techniques and tunes are blended seemingly haphazardly, Peter Hedlund’s solo CD feels like a cleansing. He writes in the liner notes: “This is nyckelharpa. Just a nyckelharpa. This is a bit unusual. Nyckelharpa nowadays is mostly played as part of a group, several nyckelharpas together and maybe some other instruments too. I think this is good. It’s an instrument whose sound fits well with many other instruments.”

I saw and heard Puma play for the first time exactly 20 years ago. When I zoomed in on him with my telephoto lens, he was the spitting image of Nick Nolte! Seven years earlier, 1975, he had become a riksspelman (fiddler of the realm), after only three years of playing nyckelharpa and five years before that as a student of the violin. Ten years ago he earned the World Championship title on nyckelharpa, a feat he repeated in 2000. Peter Hedlund, born 1957, grew up in Kungsängen outside Stockholm and got the nickname Puma early on from his playmates because he could navigate the underbrush silently just like a cat in the wild.

Here you have a multifaceted musician—one who brings forth large masterful music with his instrument and at the same time is a stalwart tradition bearer who readily blends into the northern woodlands of Hälsingland where he now lives in the tiny village of Iste.

Upon hearing a new CD, one usually identifies one or two tunes right off the bat that will become favorites. On this recording I found fourteen such tunes!

Normally I don’t respond favorably to polskas. Here I find three that speak to me. Peter’s own Polska on the Spot—created, literally, on the spot one time when he couldn’t think of a tune to play for dancers—has wonderful clean elements which shine with an accentuated minor second part and must give enormous dance pleasure for those who know their way around the slängpolska’s special steps. Peter explains that, luckily, someone at the dance recorded the tune on tape so he was able to learn it afterwards. Then there’s a traditional polska after Wilhelm Gelotte with strong leanings towards classical music and, of course, Polska for Exhaustion, after Viksta-Lasse, gives a tremendous jolt of energy!

Puma is very fond of waltzes, but he doesn’t present them in a-dime-a-dozen style, even though the decorative and flirtatious Inger’s Bridal Waltz is part of the package. It’s great that Peter has included Ebbe Jularbo’s Playhouse Waltz played in the impossible keys of E-flat and A-flat. Peter handily gives his own special character to this tune. Knäppgöken by Ragnar Berglund from Möklinta is quite a workout for the left hand—I’d like to see an accordion player try that one!

Waltz from Karlholm efter Tore Zetterström, which Tore played on a silverbasharpa back in 1934 on Swedish radio, was saved for posterity by the magic of radio recording. Peter has put great effort into listening and deciphering the old recording and created a his own brilliant interpretation in honor of Zetterström. It’s a fabulous tune in which it sounds as if several Peters are playing at once.

The album starts off with Puma’s Moose March and signs off with a terrific set of marches. There is Eric Sahlström’s Karolinermarschen, August Bohlin’s Korntorkar’n and the incredible four part Hälsingemarschen also after Tore Zetterström’s radio program now roughly 70 years in the past. And lastly, Peter’s own Iste Kornbodsmarsch in honor of his home village Iste. He paints a portrait for us describing beautiful Hälsingland. I yearn to hear this particular tune played in a large vaulted church, it has soul and strength of composition and execution that years for a stately bridal procession.This is music to become lost in!

—Göran Andersson, Nya Åland, July 4, 2002

In a welcome contrast to the multitude of new Swedish folk music constellations, Peter presents us with the sound of a lone nyckelharpa. Peter Hedlund, perhaps better known as Puma, plays both traditional tunes as well as his own compositions, He lays a second harmony on several tracks, but most of the 22 selections are simply one man, one nyckelharpa.

This naked presentation tells us that Puma is either very brave or slightly off his rocker. 22 tracks without the variation in sound that additional instruments provide might be deemed too much of the same thing. Certainly, this is not some party platter to stick in the CD player and leave there spinning the whole night through. And it is understandable if an unfamiliar listener might feel satiated before arriving at the last tune. But the presentation is, by no means, too much of the same thing, and Puma is definitely not off his rocker. The purpose of his presentation and tune selection is to illustrate the unique musical possibilities inherent in the nyckelharpa itself—a task impossible to carry off in the presence of other instruments.

It follows that Puma pulls out all the stops, and avails himself of all the possible big league maneuvers and configurations in his tool box—double stops, harmonies, drones. He does this in a balanced manner and with judicious control of his craft.

The tune selection is varied, with everything from old-time harpa tunes to accordion tunes. One of the favorites is Vals från Karlholm after Tore Zetterström, an old harpa tune with very unique characteristics. Vägen is a record to be inspired by and to relax with. Possibly also to dance to, but since I don't dance myself, I can't judge its quality as a dance motor.

—Henrik Lundqvist, www.chromeharp.com

. . . just pure keyed-fiddle playing by an excellent musician in an excellent aural space.

—CDroots

There is no question that the man known as Puma is a world class master of the nyckelharpa. Currently residing in Hälsingland, he has recently come out with a solo cd with both traditional tunes as well as his own compositions. Puma, now 45, became a Fiddler-of-the-Realm early on, back in 1975. He is the first person to ever bring home the nyckelharpa World Championship title—modern harpa class—two times. It's easy to understand why, now that I've allowed the new Vägen to cycle through several times in the cd player. This is nyckelharpa playing of the highest order, exemplifying both expressive feeling and matchless technique. There are many fine tunes among the 22 tracks. This is a definite must-have record for all nyckelharpa enthusiasts.

—Micke Forsberg, Folkdansaren

"This is a nyckelharpa. Just nyckelharpa. This is a bit unusual." So says Peter Hedlund in the liner notes to his new recording, an unaccompanied album of nyckelharpa music. Peter sets himself in contrast to popular Swedish bands like Väsen that use a harpa as part of larger sound. While giving them their due, he says, "For me, harpa playing is something deeper. The nyckelharpa's decidedly unique voice, its myriad of small, small details ... go unnoticed when you play as part of a group."

The best traditional music evokes a strong sense of place, the dance rhythms rooting us in the earth. The nyckelharpa in general sounds rather like a fairy tale: the sad sweetness of the melodies and the ringing echoes of the sympathetics invoking gnomes and trolls. Hedlund's playing is of the highest order, having won the World Championship twice, and his subtle touch and nuanced playing brings you to a faraway place: the boreal forest in the long twilight of late winter, northern lights in the sky perhaps, a small cabin with candles in the window welcoming you home.

Playing solo is demanding: no one to hide behind, no other instruments to create contrast and texture. The album is very much of a piece -- the fifty-three minutes can slip by without you noticing it -- but doesn't become monotonous. Hedlund is able to keep his playing interesting by treating each tune fully, with a myriad of small variations, and chooses enough different material to create texture. Each time I listen some new piece of wonder jumps out, and I assume that the listening will only become deeper over time. Fully a third of the tunes here are original compositions, and Hedlund has a great touch for making his own tunes. They are fully in traditional style, some sounding even older than the trad tunes, but invariably are the tunes that grab me the most. All in all, a coveted album for Nordic connoisseurs. It may be too fast an entry into the deep well for newcomers to Swedish music, but it will remain as a beacon when you're ready.

—Brendan Taffy, Fiddler Magazine, winter 2002/2003 issue

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