Inner Arts Initiative / Chris Dingman
It’s like the cue for an obscure, subversive joke – a vibraphonist named Chris Dingman, but this is not the jazz edition of Doonesbury, this is the third album by virtuoso vibes guy Chris Dingman – here he pares the sound back to that of a trio, a slightly surprising configuration for a vibraphonist – it’s usually a component of a larger combo, even if it’s the bandleader’s instrument. But here with drummer Tim Keiper (David Byrne, John Zorn) and in-demand Australian bassist Linda May Han Oh (Pat Metheny, Steve Wilson, T.S. Monk) Dingman has found a subtle yet expansive sound.
He is all at once chordal, rhythmic, melodic, with Oh supplying melodic leads from the bass when needed (particularly in her solos across Hijinks and Wizardry with Keiper nestling in behind her via his use of brushes and on the dynamic Find A Way). Keiper is constantly colouring in and around the lines but as we hear on opener Inner Child he’s also in control of the tempo and so comfortable fattening the groove.
Dingman comes from the Bobby Hutcherson school of vibe playing – creating warmth as he bends and delays notes (Steps On The Path) and creates dizzying runs within and around beautiful space (Folly of Progress). Perhaps most crucially here, he explores the connection with the Kora, Balafon and the African roots of the instrument and music connected to it.
Dingman has done his research and that’s reflecting in his writing. The nine songs here are all original tunes, all wonderful “Small Ensemble” pieces (it’s just a trio but you’d believe you’re hearing more than three instrumental voices – so fresh and full is the playing) but there are three songs in particular that shine a lot on the deep African connection for the vibraphone. Specifically Mali.
Ali, named after Ali Farka Toure is a hypnotic, slow-building tune where Dingman’s solos cascade from a mournful to exploratory tone as Keiper dances beneath.
Goddess is inspired by the great singer, living legend Oumou Sangare – you can almost hear her voice of feel the way she would slip inside the tune.
And then Forgive/Embrace is a nod to the work of the great modern kora master Toumani Diabaté. It’s a gorgeous, slowly unfurling melody.
But the real magic across this album is how it darts in and out of styles, how seamlessly it is all integrated. From African roots music through to New York loft-styled jazz. And back.
Dingman is a delight here, a masterful bandleader, composer and player. And his trio is both watertight and majestically fluid.