Biggi Vinkeloe/ Damon Smith/ Kjell Nordeson - Nuscope 17
I chose a late evening to audition this latest Nuscope offering for the first time, and now it never sounds quite right during the day. The duo and trio explorations exist, by and large, in afterglow, in the calm but magical world of overtone and shadow I associate with moonlight. The music is not reticent—far from it! It ebbs and flows with the quiet certainty of expectation, making the occasional moments of more extreme light and darkness more vivid.
The opening to “Kinkajou” is one such instance; Smith’s puckish arco scoops and Nordeson’s percussive twitters giving rise to one of the disc’s most overtly dramatic exchanges. Vinkelowe, far from drawn into the serio-comic fray, exudes long-toned admonishments, she and Smith seeming to have swapped roles to engage in some beautifully orchestral interplay. Her flute work on “Parish”, on the other end of the spectrum, sounds an “Oriental” clarion call amidst ominous rumbles and microtonal clusters, Smith’s shredding moans and sighs sounding like the remnants of some butchered coral. Indeed, it’s hard to tell where bass ends and percussion begins before an uneasy calm is eventually restored.
These are moments of obviously polarized unrest though, and much of the disc’s reflectivity can be gauged from the title track. What might be a military cadence, if Nordeson chose to engage stereotype, pervades the texture, his drum work a series of loosely defined in-tempo patterns that always seem to break down at the last moment. Vinkelowe and Smith dodge and weave, emerging repeatedly from Nordeson’s fractured structures only to be shoved, gently, in another direction.
Most beguiling though, bespeaking midnight, is “Today, the sun is Blue”, a gorgeously contrapuntal Smith/Vinkelowe duet; the silence surrounding each gesture is magical, each phrase leads ineluctably into the next, maintaining a perfect but fragile blend of sound and silence, a recipe for disaster in the wrong hands.
Many of the quieter moments here are so successful because the recording is absolutely first-rate. Nordeson’s subtle vibraphone is captured in a way that forms a perfect stereophonic contrast to the other players’ more sharply defined presences. The disc is a credit to Nuscope, whose output continues to be of the highest quality, and to this fine trio, from whom I hope to hear a lot more. [Marc Medwin]
Paul Desmond once jokingly referred to himself as the slowest alto in the music. He has a worthy successor in Swedish alto artist Biggi Vinkeloe, whose latest CD is a fine example of her lyric introspection. I do not mean to disparage her playing by calling it slow. She is generally in no hurry to say everything in her first five-minute solo. Instead, we get a thoughtful series of vignettes with Kjell Nordeson's drums and vibes laying down a backdrop along with Damon Smith's arco and pizzicato bass. It is Biggi that shines throughout, on alto as well as flute. Every cut has its merits. I find the "coolness" of her playing quite refreshing and it is certainly beholden to "New Thing" roots. Russell Summers in the liner notes suggests Ornette and Lee Konitz as some influences and they are there. Biggi has gone pretty far along her own stylistic road however. This is cool outness at its best. I am glad to have had the opportunity to review this one and look forward to checking out some of her previous releases! [Cadence, Grego Applegate Edwards]
This is another extra-special trio offering from the consistently excellent nuscope label featuring Ms. Biggi Vinkeloe on alto sax & flute, Damon Smith on contrabass and Kjell Nordeson on drums & vibes. Commencing with the somber, "Today, The Sun is Blue", the sax and bowed bass softly drift together. All but one of the 14 pieces is under 5 1/2 minutes, so that each piece remains focused on a few ideas at a time. The title piece is the only one that passes the 7 minute mark and the pace starts to speed up a bit, as the trio slowly ascend and swirl together modestly. Biggi's warm tone and careful placement of notes make this one of the most dreamy of any improv discs I've heard for quite some time. Kjell's spacious, hovering vibes also add a most subtle haunting vibe to the proceedings. Damon also does some fine work by adding exquisite punctuation a note or two at a time, making each one count, never too busy, yet always helping center what is slowly revealed. At times, I hear Ornette's "Golden Circle" trio from the mid-sixties, played almost in slow motion, yet they remain fascinating and quite restrained simultaneously. I hear the ghost-like spirit of Jimmy Giuffre in there somewhere as well. [Bruce Galanter, Downtown Music Gallery]
Klang. Farbe. Melodie. • CD:
The title of this album translates into “sound. color. melody.” That's apt, given the resolution of the pieces that comprise the record. There is no gainsaying which way the music will go and where it will lead. The spur of the moment gives no warning. What is sufficient is that each of the players has a sense of direction and harmonics, and also that sound can be subjugated to give tonality the greatest dimension. So, as the music flows, smoothly or in fits and starts, there is no shattering dissonance. The shared empathy locks in improvisation as each player fathoms the other. And as the music floats and weaves, it rises into a collective embrace, as on the placid gentility of “Minous,” where the koto unveils strands of melody plucked by Miya Masaoki with deliberation and shifting emphasis, the contrabass of George Cremaschi and the percussion of Gino Robair creating an instinctive partnership. The latter has a storehouse of percussion that brings in several unusual and enjoyable moments.
The music is not without a jazz sensibility. Biggi Vinkeloe brings that to bear on “Mr. Humble Opinion” with her phrasing on the alto, her twisting lines stacking one idea upon another as she pushes the edges spurred by Robair and the rumbling bass runs of Cremaschi. [Jerry D'Souza · All about Jazz]
A German-born alto sax and flute player who currently resides in Sweden, Biggi Vinkeloe hasn’t received nearly as much attention here in the States as she has in her native Europe; an odd circumstance for someone who’s played with such heavyweight improvisers as Cecil Taylor and Peter Kowald. On Klang. Farbe. Melodie., Vinkeloe aligns her acerbic tone and clipped, staccato lines with a trio of Bay Area-based US musicians—bassist George Cremaschi, percussionist Gino Robair, and koto player Miya Masaoka—for a set of freely improvised performances that ought to raise her profile considerably.
As with any session in which he’s involved, Robair’s presence lends a distinct sense of unpredictability to the proceedings. Although his experimentalism can tend toward self-indulgence—extended techniques that don’t always advance the music as a whole—here he keeps his kitchen sink-sized percussion arsenal and trickster’s nature at the music’s service, expertly supplementing each piece with the appropriate rumble and/or splat of his extended kit.
Masaoka’s role in the quartet also serves as an expectation-eluding wildcard: On several tracks her koto functions as the piano might in a traditionally aligned improv quartet, full of sweeping gestures and elastic chords, whereas on others she fully exploits the instrument’s Eastern tonalities, plucking spindly clusters of arpeggiated notes. In either role, Masaoka complements Cremaschi’s work on his comparatively diminished set of strings, often working in tandem to cast a wide net for Vinkeloe and Robair’s abstract approaches.
Overall, the music retains a strong sense of collectivity; even when Vinkeloe sits out (as on “Minous”) there’s never a sense that each player is anything other than an equal contributor to the music being created. In other words, this is most definitely not a blowing sax meets rhythm section type of date. But for freely improvised music, each piece is remarkably focused and concise—not one of the 13 tracks breaks the six-minute mark. And while some of the pieces still can’t avoid the same pitfalls that derail works ten times their length, it’s a strong indication nonetheless of a quartet that’s fully in tune with its limits. [One Final Note, Scott Hreha, February 2005]
Blue Rêve • CD
With European and North American improvisers frequently operating on the same wavelength, the number of cross-continental collaborations has increased exponentially over the past few years.
These are genuine associations, mind you, not the sort of famous-soloist-meets- locals match-ups of the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the more auspicious meetings have involved Biggi Vinkeloe, a German-born alto saxophonist and flautist, who has lived in Sweden since 1988. Vinkeloe, whose European trio recordings have featured such respected bassists as the late Peter Kowald of Germany and the American expat Barre Phillips has also played with Bay area bassist Damon Smith.
Her associates on BLUE REVE show the respect with which her playing is held, since the veteran bassist and drummer have worked with many of modern improv's most accomplished players. Originally from Vancouver, B.C., bassman Lisle Ellis has not only has a longtime partnership with fellow Canuck pianist Paul Plimley, but also regularly plays with reedists -- from upstate New York's Joe McPhee to the late Oakland, Calif.-based Glenn Spearman. Another Spearman associate from their earliest days, drummer Donald Robinson also worked with Danish reedist John Tchicai, local altoist Marco Eneidi -- who also plays with Ellis -- plus he, Ellis and reedman Larry Ochs formed the What We Live trio in 1994.
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- their credentials there's little sense of awkwardness in this connection with Vinkeloe. One clue: the CD's title and title tune, "Blue Rêve" is a word play on their initials -- REV. Plus almost all of the dozen song titles are further variations on the title, which translates as "Blue Dream" in English.
One notable point about Vinkeloe is that she has a bright, sharpest alto tone like Cannonball Adderley -- an attribute not often found among avant-garde players. Frequently, and especially on "Mémories de Blues", she shows it off to great advantage. On that piece cymbal resonation and walking bass are lined up with her sunny reed output. Later sluicing double stopping from Ellis and hearty, ratcheting bounces and ruffs from Robinson define their positions as she double and triple tongues and repeats a long-lined tone. With each instrumentalist taking breaks as he would in a conventional jazz jam, the theme is often reprised and the tune has an unmistakable ending.
However, this lack of definite summations mars a few of the other tracks. Missing the final partial, some compositions drift to an ending without a strong summation. Most of the time however, the altoist's distinct, pointed tone and the cooperation of the other two give the program a loose, late-night club feeling.
This is apparent on pieces like the title and first track. Vinkeloe makes her point through pointillism, languidly melding steady lyrical tones and straight flowing vibrations. Ellis' bass lopes and Robinson applies so little pressure with his brushes that you can clearly hear the inventive bass lines.
This balladic command of the reed doesn't mean that she isn't capable of spraying grainy half tones and mid range pitch vibrations when need be. These irregularly harmonize with the others' work. Other times moderato obbligatos that expand sock cymbal beats and single-string bass parts give way to point-making screaming altissimo from the saxist.
Regrettably, Vinkeloe can't always overcome the so-called feminine quality of the flute, and is seemingly content on a couple of tunes to rely on flutter tonguing or clean, airy tones. Luckily her embouchure encourages secondary breaths to be heard along with the tongued note.
For originality, "Petit Kamichi" and "Plus Rien à Dire" are more notable flute flights. The former features some scatty, spittle-encrusted flute hisses that become more unsymmetrical as she joins deep bass strums and the timbres of wire brushes on the snare. The later is a rare example of doubled tones, creating one with her horizontal instrument and the other with her throat. Suggesting Scandinavian solitude, the squealing overblowing matches perfectly with bowed bass and wavering cymbals.
With the three musicians combing for a consummate ending when the final note is sounding is it too much of a dream or rêve to hope that there soon will be an encore? [Ken Waxman · Jazz Weekly]
Maghzen • CD
On Maghzen, recorded live in a chapel in France, Biggi Vinkeloe and Barre Phillips both co-sign all the compositions and dialogue and exchange - with their instruments - freely and spontaneously for over an hour. The sound of this recording is remarkable and enlightens the purity of the notes and silences played by the two master improvisators. At times complementary, at times opposed, at times in unison, calms or survolted... here are two outstanding musicians with a lot to say. An incredibly rich album which may ask for an attentive or active listening from its audience, but its reward is priceless. [Jazz Break]
Mbat / One Way Out / Slowdrags and Interludes • CD's
Vinkeloe’s sparse delivery and pierced tone recall Jimmy Lyons and her compositions are more like dissembled bits of melody than anything else (‘Fragments’ is one of them). So Phillips, who plays free but never surrenders a melodic line, is a good partner for her on Mbat. When they find their way to counterpoint on the title-track, the music feels like it’s reached its reward. Some of the eight pieces wind on rather aimlessly, but it’s pleasing music in its benign, muted way. One Way Out is a more-pointed and more confident continuation, peaking on the long title-piece.
Carved up into 19 sections, the music on Slowdrags and Interludes lies a more ritualistic feel to it, with 12 brief ‘Interludes’ interspersing the handful of longer pieces. They sound like improvisations with a splash of preordained structure (and, since there are individual composer-credits, that may be the case), and with Uuskyla’s rythms – more often tattoos or cymbal-crashes in stark, open space – as simple and open as thee leader’s melodies, it’s left to the incomparable Kowald to provide the textural density, which he does, superbly. Kowald may not be the humorist that Phillips is, but he has far more in the way of technique and ideas. Concentrated, without sounding dense, the record rewards patient study. [Penguin Guide to Jazz]
Maghzen / Desert Sweets • CD's
Recorded in the attractive acoustic of the Chapelle Ste-Philomene, Maghzen picks up the dialogue between Vinkeloe and Phillips. Some of the best music comes in the four brief ‘Kumo’ pieces where Vinkeloe uses the flute, getting an acid-drop lyricism which Phillips counterpoints by bouncing the bow off the strings. The alto-bass exchanges find a kind of bruised melody that takes the ear, although Vinkeloe’s disjunctive way with ideas does rather undermine the thematic hold of the longer tracks. Sampled a few minutes at a time this is a very worthwhile.
The trio setting, though, suits Vinkeloe best – as it does so many improvisers. Desert Sweets has even more tracks than Slowdrags and Interludes, all 22 of them. The sleeve-notes make great play of the fact that Vinkeloe works to a slightly different-to-standard tuning and has the rest of the band follow her (matters which haven’t impeded either Jack McLean or Lee Konitz), but most listeners will simply enjoy the curious combination of alto/flute, trombone/tuba and bass spelling out a sequence of often startling episodes. This time, though, there are intimations of further development which are simply shut down by the deliberate brevity of many of the tracks. [Penguin Guide to Jazz]
Desert Sweets · CD:
...The most notable thing about (this recording) is the number of tracks. Vinkeloe and her trio created a series of 'instant compositions', but by limiting themselves to just a few minutes for each composition they do away with the greatest danger of this kind of free music, those half hour long expeditions in search of something to say that can plague free music and make it into a stunt instead of an art form. There are 22 tracks here in just over an hour of music, and while the longest 'instant composition' approaches five minutes, most of them hover around the two minute mark. What this means is that there is no searching and wandering around for a direction. The trio must make its statement and get out. No warm ups. No cool downs. Just a lot of close listening to one another, and responding from the gut. While Weaver and Smith are accomplished, Biggi Vinkeloe's sax and flute is often the voice drifting over a bass range background that puts her in the center of almost every track. She is sometimes a bit abstract, but more often than not she is inventing simple or crazy melodies, and not just atmospherics and multiphonics. (This recording) keeps a soft, nostalgic mood, with warm, contemplative tempos for the most part, and in the end I think this trio manages to make these many, many brief statements into something greater than the parts. [Phillip McNally · Cadence Magazine, 2002]
Through reviewing for this organ, your man had the good fortune several years ago to be introduced to the music of Swedish alto saxophonist/flautist Biggi Vinkeloe through One Way Out and Slowdrags and Interludes - trio records with drummer Peeter Uuskyla and either Peter Kowald or Barre Phillips on bass that offered short, succinct reports from quizzical blues to vaguely folkish fluting. The Desert Sweets trio continues the economical programming - 22 tracks in one hour! - but pits her against the lower voices of tuba/trombone player Mark Weaver and bassist Damon Smith. While the trio is balanced exquisitely in these keen improvisations, with Weaver doing things you don't expect a tuba to do and Smith conjuring rimshots on his bass when necessary, Vinkeloe remains the magnet. Her alto playing refers to Ornette's blues, but less excitably, while her flute conjures echoes of some lost culture's folk music. [Randal McIlroy · CODA Magazine, 2002]
One Way Out • CD
Man there's a lot of wonderful, oddball stuff being put out these days. There is simply no excuse for being bored with your music collection while daring artists and labels are willing to take losses jsut to satisfy their muses or keep adventuresome listeners entertained.
Barre Phillips is such a terrific bass player, and (5) is such a wonderful exhibition of his deep and various skills that it's difficult to know where to begin. There is high improvisation fertility, his luxurious sound, his amazing technique. Let's just say he's got it all.
He gets strong support on One Way Out, a freely improvised trio recording with wind player Biggi Vinkeloe and drummer Peeter Uuskyla. I love Vinkeloe's beautiful, velvety sound on both alto and flute, and the way she dives right into the various seas, rivers and still pools of sound produced by her colleagues. Whatever the environment, her playing enhances the surroundings. Her technique seems sometimes a little uncertain, and she doesn't do much leading here, but she is a thoughtful and interesting artist. She seems more in tune with the intrinsic sadness of the universe that her mates are. (This may be why her playing reminds me of some of Miriam Gideon's lovely, cerebral compositions.).
Uuskyla is simply a great contemporary percussionist. He's highly skilled, intelligent and gutsy. I think he could have pushed a little more toward full-throttle during the frantic middle of the excellent, 22-minute title tune, but other than that, he takes nary a false step. His short, startling solos are magnificent. Because of Phillips‚ abundant, quickly-changing ideas, he can be a demanding compatriot. On the other hand through, it's not only more fun, but in some ways easier to put forth interesting treats when someone is consistently setting the table with such care. Uuskyla isn't content just to follow or comment, though. He often steps forward with intriguing theses of his own. And he knows when to lay out, too, as on the terrific duo for flute and bowed bass that comprises "Espressivo".
Whether Phillips is clicking out a cool legno passage, scribbling away at harmonics, or thrumming a deeply satisfying pizzicato, there's always beautiful music being created. He never just starts playing (as do so many free-Jazz noddlers) with the hope that something will come to him eventually. Has he ever had a bad day? Maybe there was one in the early 70s, but he was probably home in bed all that day with a head cold. Great album. [Walter Horn, Cadence, November 1998]
Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Saturday, 6th September, 2008 · LIVE
Paul Hession / Biggi Vinkeloe / Sami Pekkola
Born in Leeds in 1956 Hession took up drumming at the age of 15 and has since played and broadcast worldwide. His torrential polyrhythmic style and his ability to raise the stakes in formidable company has seen him collaborate with many of the major figures on the free music scene - Peter Brotzmann, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Maggie Nichols, Phil Minton, Otomo Yoshihide amongst many others.
Based in Sweden, Vinkeloe is an alto saxophone and flute player of immense energy and creativity. She studied in France throughout the '70s and '80s developing a strong idiosyncratic style of her own. Vinkeloe made her first impact in 1988 playing with legendary pianist Cecil Taylor and has since worked with a variety of the finest improv musicians in Europe and the U.S.
Sami Pekkola is a one of the most active free-jazz saxophonist on the Finnish underground scene - a member of Hetero Skeleton and Taco Bells and collaborator with, amongst many others Avarus and Sunburned Hand of the Man. Recently he has completed projects with stage-director Esa Kirkkopelto and painter Mikko Myöhänen.
Paul Hession and his two saxophonist cohorts, Biggi Vinkeloe (alto, doubling flute) and Sami Pekkola, tenor saxophone come straight out of free jazz. A purely acoustic lineup in such a predominantly electronic festival may have posed a few problems. Which were ridden over immediately. As they sound-checked and proceeded to play what turned into a taster for their main set people were drifting in and getting straight into their music. When they stopped, there were shouts for more! The hall filled up and they played a great set, coming off the polyrhythmic fire and skill of Hession, a master drummer who has been around in heavy company down the years. I hadn't heard his two bandmembers before and they were intriguing. Pekkola can go from what now has become straight ahead free playing across all the registers to the more conceptual interrogations of the the physicality of his instrument, in one sequence removing the mouthpiece, then later part of the neck to produce a variety of swooshing, farty sounds. Vinkeloe's flute was fascinating – plenty of orthodox technique again but she pushed into further territory, heavily breathing/speaking through it to produce other levels of sound – in Roland Kirk mode, certainly, but with her own spin. Overall, they gave a superb demonstration of dynamics, going from full-bore blowing to a quieter section that explored small nuances, bowed cymbals and brushes from the drummer and pointillism from the horns, bouncing ideas of each other all the way as Hession constantly varied his timbres and attack. Usually you see/hear this stuff in smaller venues, where the audience can get a bit precious, to be honest. I enjoyed the rowdier atmosphere as the saturday night fandango cranked up and the booze and whatever else flowed – many shouts and hoots of encouragement to the band that contributed to my thinking that this music benefits from being thrown out of the usual performance space into a more public arena. Hession and co looked as if they enjoyed themselves... one of my highspots of the weekend... [Rod Warner, wordsandmusic]
...But the festival yielded even bigger surprises as it sprawled out into other, disparate disciplines: high energy free jazz from the tight knit trio of saxophonists Biggi Vinkeloe and Sami Pekkola with British drummer Paul Hession.” [The Wire magazine, 29th of november 2008]
In contrast to these effects-heavy displays the free-jazz musicianship of Paul Hession, Biggi Vinkeloe and Sami Pekkola makes for a refreshing change in direction. With Vinkeloe and Pekkola's flute and saxophones buoyed by Hession's unfettered drumming they play together with an easy, unadorned invention, drawing some unusual shapes from their basic trio framework...
...With Sunday's numbers increased by the headline draw of Sonic Youth elder Thurston Moore, the first act to properly warm up the crowd are an ad hoc Finnish super-group called Hockey Night, convened at short notice to replace Neil Campbell & Karl Bauer. Featuring members of Avarus and Kuupuu on drums, tapes and pedals alongside Sami Pekkola's free-blowing saxophone they raise a spur-of-the-moment melee of discord and clatter that definitely has its' moments." [Andrew Carden. Rock-a Rolla Nov/Dec '08]
Hitting the Biggi Time • LIVE
Over the past several years, a creative music pipeline between Europe and the Bay Area has brought great jazz artists here, among them bassist Peter Kowald (Germany) and saxophonists Gianni Gebbia (Italy) and Mats Gustafsson (Sweden). They play scintillating stands at small venues, where jazzheads flock to hear the latest from overseas. Generous government funding and a vibrant club scene in Europe have allowed these musicians to develop their improvisational and experimental work, seemingly with more freedom and support than there is for musicians here in the United States.
The lates artist to find an affinity with the Bay Area scene is German-born alto sax and flute player Biggi Vinkeloe, an artist-in-residence at Headlands Center for the Arts last year. Mostly self-taught, Vinkeloe studied in France through the '70s and '80s; she first made a splash in 1988, playing with legendary pianist Cecil Taylor in a West Berlin project that included collaborations with local improv artists. Since forming her own trio in 1990, Vinkeloe has been extremely active and has appeared on well over a dozen albums with a variety of the finest improv musicians in Europe and the U.S. Vinkeloe's style is so subtle and smooth, especially on flute, that in another life she could have been a brilliant classical musician. As it is, her recordings have an unsentimental patience and lushness that already set her apart from the virtuosic bombast of the aforementioned Gebbia and Gustafsson. She's also a rarity in the male-dominated world of creative music.
But a careful listen to Vinkeloe's tunes makes it clear she's not all suggestion - the woman can play. On alto, Vinkeloe displays a remarkably sophisticated sense of harmony, while spinning complicated melodic lines. Using her supple, precise sense of rythm and melody, Vinkeloe engages the other players in a lengthy musical dialogue, one that surprises the audience and pushes the musicians to new creative planes. [David Cook, SF Weekly, January, 2002]