Dec 24 2011
It’s the warmth of vibes that I believe is that instrument’s quality I most enjoy, and it’s not a coincidence that vibraphone-led albums tend to display an uptick in playtime on my stereo during the autumn and winter months. But just because vibes sound like one big ol’ cozy hug doesn’t encapsulate their identity; if they put their mind to it, vibes can can string nighttime icicles all over the place.
That brings us to Chris Dingman.
On Waking Dreams, Dingman states that it’s a retrospective of the last 12 years of his life. That’s a hell of a lot of ground to cover on one album, a hell of a lot of emotions, and it’s why sometimes the music will make the room all cozy and sometimes it’ll leave it colder than the sub-zero on the other side of the windows.
The music is a series of vignettes, some tunes that fall under the jazz avant-garde of the sixties, some under the post-mod jazz of today, some tunes that are straight-ahead jazz ballads, and some that stray closer to neo-classical or moody indie-rock. There is a lack of cohesion between the songs, and it’s not just a strong point of the album but also likely how Dingman intended it. Looking back on any of our lives, cohesion is a tough element to suss out. We look for commonalities, for foundations, for people and objects that provide a sense of permanence, and then all the crazy unspeakable emotions they inspire inside us. No way any of us fit twelve years of our lives onto an hour long album in a way that makes any sense. Honesty and sincerity are all that can be asked, and it’s what Dingman gives us here.
I’m just glad he didn’t give us an album that could be described as cinematic or a soundtrack, something that pushes us to imagine parts of a movie as we listen to the album. Ah, the opening scene, where the hero makes his entrance. Oh, this is a tense song where the hero faces his Big Conflict. And now a calming song; we must have reached the denouement of the story. No, not here.
Waking Dreams is not an emotionally linear album. There are bursts of tension where vibes and piano bite ferociously at one another just to be interrupted by the calming voice of sax. Flute and bass clarinet should be at odds, but instead appear on the same page, voicing the same opinion in their very different ways. A dreamy interlude followed by a serene ballad immediately juxtaposed against an ominous tangle of free jazz and children’s lullaby.
After the last note had played, it felt like a lot of information had been thrown at me. Tough to interpret it all as it happened, tough to do the same in the silence that followed. Unsurprising, since Dingman is encoding his music with a complex soup of thoughts and emotions. This is the kind of album that requires, and deserves, repeated listening. The good news is that even though it’s a challenging album, it’s also quite enjoyable to hear on its face, too. This ain’t some doctoral thesis masquerading as a jazz album; this album is a nice bundle of listening happiness all on its own. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take a couple listens to form that opinion. Nice, though, to learn that when the dust has cleared that I’ve been listening to an album that deserves mention as one of the Best of 2011.
Your personnel for this album: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Loren Stillman (saxophones), Fabian Almazan (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), Justin Brown (drums), and Chris Dingman (vibraphone)
With special guests: Ryan Ferreira (guitar) Erica Von Kleist (flute), Mark Small (bass clarinet).
Released on the Between Worlds Music label.
Here’s Dingman’s bandcamp page, where you can stream the album in full (and purchase it, too).
A free album track is available on AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label.