Chris Dingman: Waking Dreams (2011)
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Judging by Waking Dreams, Chris Dingman has spent a lot of time listening to Bobby Hutcherson's classic Blue Note albums. Given that his instrument of choice is the vibes, it should come as no surprise, but it's uncanny how much Dingman's debut resembles classics like Oblique (1967) and Patterns (1968) in sound and feel. Heck, there's even a Joe Chambers tune on it.
This is not to take anything away from Waking Dreams, which is quite good in parts and stunning in others, a debut recording that is inspired without being imitative. Dingman explains, in the liner notes, that the musicalmost all self-pennedis based on the experiences, good and bad, of the past 12 years of his life, and that, when he was unable to devote his full attention to creating music, some of it came to his in dreams, hence the title.
The end result covers a lot of very interesting territory from the gorgeous to the abstract, from the melancholy to the hopeful, all buoyed by the soft chime of Dingman's vibes. He's a terrific player, but his solos always seem embedded in the compositions rather than an opportunity for some mallet theatrics. Many debuts suffer from over-ambition, but Dingman actually has a ton of good ideas that never give off the sense that he's used up all of his tricks. Waking Dreams is a contemplative, introspective exploration of various themes and textures that rewards close listening, yet also work perfectly well as mellow background music.
Standout tracks include "Jet Lag," with its slightly sinister motif worked through in shifting rhythms and points of emphasis, immediately followed by the beautiful ballad "Manhattan Bridge," with its nebulous chord sequence. The title track is one of Dingman's most unforgettable melodies, a catchy series of three-note phrases. And this is all on the first half; the second half, while not having a standout track, is even stronger in sustaining a medium tempo, melancholy groove through the entire sequence. Only the last track, with a misguided attempt at spoken word, disrupts the experience.
The playing by the rest of Dingman's group is exceptional, with pianist Fabian Almazan completely in line with what the leader is after in terms of mood and tone. Loren Stillman plays several different saxophones to great effect, and Ambrose Akinmusire, a trumpeter who has already received wide acclaim, acquits himself well with some nice solos.
On the back on the CD Dingman exhorts his listeners to play the entire disc at one sitting. Waking Dreams is so captivating there'll be no problem doing just that.
Track Listing: Prelude; Vijayanagara; Jet Lag; Manhattan Bridge; Indian Hill; Waking Dreams; Interlude; Same Coin; Shift in the Wind; Reflection; Clear the Rain; Nocturnal; Zaneta; Epilogue: Stillness.
Personnel: Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Loren Stillman: saxophones; Fabian Almazan: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; Justin Brown: Drums; Ryan Ferreira: guitar; Erica Von Kleist: flute; Mark Small: bass clarinet.
Record Label: Between Worlds Music