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Hitting the Biggi Time 

One of Europe's finest jazz improv musicians, Biggi Vinkeloe, visits the Bay Area

Wednesday, Jan 2 2002
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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 latest 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 rhythm 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.

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David Cook

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