ROBINSON/ELLIS/VINKELOE [REV]

Blue Rêve
ELD Records ER 2

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

Track Listing: 1. Blue Rêve 2. Juste Un Mot 3. Aquilion 4. Blu Sud 5. Petit Kamichi 7. Dream Gone Blue 8. Blu Nord 9. Blue Impression 10. Mémories de Blues 11. Plus Rien à Dire 12. Blue is the Moon

Personnel: Biggi Vinkeloe (alto saxophones and flute); Lisle Ellis (bass); Donald Robinson (drums)