Biggi Vinkeloe | Mark Weaver | Damon Smith | Desert Sweets | Plutonium Records

plu 005

Biggi Vinkeloe – alto sax, flute | Mark Weaver – tuba, trombone | Damon Smith – double bass

©2002 All titles are instant compositions by vinkeloe/weaver/smith.

Paintings by Victoria Brill. Liner notes by Adam Lane. Graphic design by Alan Anzalone. Recording date: April 5,2001. Recorded and mixed by Scott R. Looney, Oakland, California. Mastered at Q! productions, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Tracklist: 1 blue lupine (2:42) 2 red bud (1:57) 3 yellow sweetclover (2:53) 4 purplemat (2:24) 5 calabazilla (3:07) 6 mesquitilla (2:21) 7 canatilla (2:44) 8 palo-de-hierro (3:22) 9 cholla (1:51) 10 hierba-del-pasmo (3:22) 11 tasajillo (2:58) 12 saguaro (2:36) 13 dakota verbena (3:05) 14 arizona poppy (3:07) 15 utah juniper (4:01) 16 inkweed (2:14) 17 biting cactus (1:31) 18 chili coyote (4:54) 19 senna (2:38) 20 incienso (2:12) 21 zinnia (2:52) 22 jojoba (1:43) Total time (60:2)

Contemporary Improvisation

has a beautifully strong and profoundly meaningful tradition of exploration. Explorations in sound production for instance have lead to new instrumental techniques, which in turn have lead to new sonic vocabularies, which in turn have lead to entirely new musical realities. Improvisers from Rubber Miley to Coltrane to Kowald took their instruments and discovered ways to play them which were previously unfathomable. In doing so they enriched our lives as listeners and established entirely new avenues of musical expression. Another important area of exploration has been orchestration. Improvisers have often created ensembles that combine instruments not previously before combined. Some examples include: sax duos, bass duos, bass quartets, three bari saxes and a bass, two woodwinds and voice, guitar/drums/turntable, jazz orchestra plus basketball team, and both Coltrane’s and Ornette’s explorations of the double quartet. The trio of Biggi Vinkeloe, Damon Smith, and Mark Weaver offers us an exploratory best of both worlds. Here we have a trio of master improvisers who have deftly crafted new ways of sound production as individuals and represent a most unlikely sonic combination as a group. Together they reveal sounds that will surprise and delight right from the first listening.

There are some fascinating sonic qualities of this band that will stand out immediately. The sound they achieved in the studio is one. This is a hauntingly beautiful sound; a sound that complements the music being performed perfectly. All the instruments are clear and present, but there is a curious and deliberate distance to the sounds as well. Biggi was meticulous about getting this exact sound from the studio and engineer Scott R. Looney skillfully obliged.

A more subtle sonic aspect of the group sound heard on this CD is the use of a slightly different tuning. Biggi tunes her alto sax to a442, and the rest of the band tunes to her. This is only slightly sharper than the standard 440, but slight or not it makes the entire band simply sound different. Beautifully and uniquely different. Taking both the tuning issue together with the deliberate studio choices, we can see this is a band that understands and embraces creative expression on a multi-dimensional level. They understand how to work creatively with the space they perform in, how to capture their sounds with a specific creative goal in mind, and how to deal with tuning in a way that thoughtfully influences the total sonic results of their creative efforts. In other words, this is a band that has a total concept of creativity: a concept where the improviser(s) understands that sound production and the development of a creative voice (as an individual or as a band) extends well beyond the notes one chooses to play. Another sonic quality of this band worthy of noting is of course the orchestration. This is a fascinating choice of sounds to work with. The higher pitches of the alto sax and flute combine beautifully with the lower (and at times upper) ranges of the bass and the tuba. Together this band sounds as no other. But you can’t just put a bassist, a reed player, and tuba player into the same studio and expect results.

You need improvisers who understand their instruments and understand how their instrumental voice will function in the context of the compositions they are spontaneously and collectively constructing. These are three improvisers who are able do just that. They are three unique voices that work remarkably well as one. Listen to the interplay between Biggi and the two lower voices. Listen to the long flowing songlike improvisation she constructs in the first track. This is a fascinating melodic journey she takes us on. Hear how she floats above both Damon and Mark and follow each of her phrases to their unexpected conclusions. This is a melodic statement of unique clarity and one that clearly demonstrates the work of a master improviser. Listen to her flute playing in track 18 and hear the tambral limits she pushes on the flute and how beautifully it compliments the lethargic tuba and percussive bass. Biggi is clearly and without question one of the strongest voices in today’s large pool of improvising reeds. Her melodic sensibility is unparalled and her expression is always fascinating. Listen to all she does on this disc; you’ll hear the work of one of the true masters of improvisation.

biggi vinkeloe | mark weaver | damon smith | desert sweets | plutonium records 005

Turn your attention now to both Damon and Mark and go back to track 18. This is fascinating music. Listen to the choices Damon is making. Each sound is carefully placed into the mix, punctuating the composition perfectly. Throughout this disc you’ll hear from Damon a bassist of extraordinary technical talent and an improviser who seems to have an uncanny ability to place sonic events in exactly their proper place. At any given time Damon can and does provide melodic counterpoint, percussive accompaniment, or expressive bass lines. He compliments Biggy perfectly and offers and intriguing contrast to Mark. Listen to his arco work on track 2; how his lines offer both a high-pitched melodic compliment and a percussive drive. Listen to his sonic explorations on tracks 5 and 6, or his strong pizzicato sound on track 16. This is one of the strongest new voices in improvised bass playing, with an extensive sonic vocabulary and a keen orchestration sense.

And Mark’s contribution to this group is just as fascinating and poignant. He is a perfect low-end compliment to Biggi, constructing beautiful melodic lines that flow, and wind, and take the most curious and interesting detours. Listen to the cascade of sound he creates on track 14; hear the jagged percussive feel he imparts and how that drives the band. Or listen to his low rumblings on track 20. This is a glorious composition with all three players working on three separate tambral planes. Mark’s lines flow so casually here and take the piece to the farthest reaches of the tuba’s low end until the piece abruptly concludes. Listen to his work on track 9; how he has a total and complete command of his instrument. Then there is the dramatic conclusion to the disc. Listen to Mark on this final track. His vocalizing is so profound on this piece it adds an otherworldly dimension that functions as an almost mystical sounding conclusion to the entirety of this CD.

A final aspect of this CD worthy of noting is the large amount of pieces the disc contains. This is a very unique approach the band takes: many short compositions as opposed to a few longer ones. This concept was one contributed by Biggi and Damon and you can hear how the idea of shorter improvised statements fits with both their particular creative voices: ones that seems more concerned with brief tambral or melodic explorations than epic sound constructions. It makes perfect musical sense, and again offers an example of the total concept approach to improvisation. Here time becomes an important parameter of creative expression, and the use of time, or time limits, becomes as meaningful a part of the creative statement as any notethat is played. The concise improvised statement also raises some interesting issues regarding where a band like this situates itself in history. In the wake of people like Coltrane or Cecil Taylor we can wonder how many young improvisers want to deal with the construction of a 30 to 60 minute improvisation/collective composition? Of course there are plenty, but certainly the 30+ minute improvisation is an important creative aspect of many of the master improvisers who emerged out of the 1960’s. With the desert sweets trio we hear a band that draws from the vocabulary of those earlier masters, yet takes a decidedly different approach regarding their use of time. For a bassist like Damon Smith it clearly distances him from one of his admitted heroes, Peter Kowald. Although Damon draws from the Kowald vocabulary, his sense of time is so different that it charts an entirely new course of improvised bass playing.

This is a band worthy of attention. They tap into the rich improvising tradition of exploration and offer superior sonic results. There are 22 tracks on this CD, all with examples of outstanding technical virtuosity and dazzling musical moments. Anyone familiar with numerology knows that 22 is a special number. It is one of the master numbers (along with 11) that represent the master cosmic vibrations in the universe, and signify a highly enlightened experience beyond the range of human understanding. The listening experience offered here is certainly one that stretches beyond our previous improvising understandings as listeners. This is a sonic journey that travels through some fascinating and beautiful new improvised terrain and offers a totally unique and rewarding listening experience. Enjoy the ride. —Adam Lane, new york/oakland, feburary 2002

biggi vinkeloe | mark weaver | damon smith | desert sweets | plutonium records 005

…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.  (“desert sweets”) 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 vol.28 no.10, Oct 2002, p. 110)

Painting by Victoria Brill

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, issue 306, Nov/Dec 2002, p. 38)

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