Virtuoso instrumentalist, songwriter and composer Mats Edén is one of the defining figures of the new Swedish folk music and the characteristic sound of his customized drone-fiddle is an integral part of the widely-acclaimed Nordan project of Lena Willemark and Ale Möller (albums: "Nordan", "Agram"). A perennial poll-and-prize-winner in his homeland he is looked up to as both a custodian of traditional values in folk music and as one of the genre's most innovative players. Ale Möller has referred to Edén as "the leader of the folk revival. He has created a freedom unique among fiddle players. He has a million ideas..."
Mats Edén grew up in a musical family in Värmland in Western Sweden, a territory that borders on Norway. His step-father was renowned as an excellent fiddle player and passed along much of his knowledge. "Emerging from this background," Edén says, "I travelled widely, playing with all types of musicians, which has led me to reflect upon my own possibilities."
Since the early 1980s, Edén and Jonas Simonson have played together in Mats's still-extant Swedish-Norwegian band Groupa whose music also draws upon jazz (in Groupa, Simonson - originally a classical flautist - also plays bass saxophone). But the folk tradition is the starting point. "Jonas and I have developed an almost instinctive way of working together. Each of has in his own way been searching for new means of expression with the range of traditional music. Having deep knowledge of these old methods has given us a secure base from which to explore new artistic possibilities. The timbre and the stark beauty of the music have been a primary source for my own compositions."
For an album ostensibly focussed upon the Swedish folk tradition, "Milvus" describes some surprisingly wide arcs. It begins with a piece dedicated to the Indian violinist K. Shivakumar (in his composition "Haväng", Edén seems to be telling us something about the universality of the folk experience) and ends up with a 20 minute composition for string quartet played by Norway's distinguished and progressive Cikada Quartet, best known for their interpretations of Lutoslawski, Crumb, Webern, Scelsi and so forth (they can be heard on the forthcoming album "Birds And Bells" by Danish composer Bent Sørensen on ECM New Series).
In between, Edén offers dedication to some of the fiddlers who have preceded him, legends including Ärtbergs Kalle Karlström and Lejsme Per Larsson, masters of the old school of playing like Torleiv Björgum, and also near-contemporaries like Anders Rosén. Rosén was one of the players who, in the 1970s, revived the tradition of making abundant use of resonating strings. Mats Edén took this concept one step further with the development of a fiddle with five sympathetic strings: he called this instrument the "bordunfiol", or the drone-fiddle.
Värmland's geographical proximity to Norway has encouraged Edén to look over the borders at related traditions. The tune here called "Nordafjälls" (The Northern Mountains), for instance, comes from Southern Norway and belongs to a body of songs called Rameslåtter whose motifs, it is claimed, can be traced back to the 13th century.
Edén also studied in Norway, taking classes in composition with Lasse Thoresen and Olav Anton Thomesen, gaining the theoretical and practical knowledge that would enable him to establish his own slant on contemporary composition, while making use also of his knowledge of Scandinavian folk tradition. The String Quartet no. 1 featured here is an early instance of this development, played with verve by the Cikada Quartet.
Old music, new music... Mats Edén has claimed elsewhere to draw inspiration from everyone from Lejsme per Larsson to Ligeti. Where Swedish folk is concerned, Edén endeavours to ensure that the voices of an early generation of fiddlers are heard, but he is also aware of the responsibilities that accompany his own role in the tradition and champions eagerly the next generation. On "Vardag" he is pleased to showcase the music of one of his pupils, Magnus Stinnerbom, "a master-in-the-making" Edén asserts.
Beyond historical, musicological and curatorial perspectives, "Milvus" reveals, above all, a sheer pleasure in playing that is unmistakable.
The album incidentally is named for the bird of prey that is called in English the kite (Latin: milvus milvus). For Mats Edén the bird has a talismanic significance - watching it soar over the mountain valleys of Sweden, he views it as a symbol of freedom.