Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Music to Transcendence :Chris Dingman's "Journeys Vol 1"

Chris Dingman: Journeys Vol 1 Inner Iniative Arts Inc.
Not all music is designed to make you dance, to bring a smile to your face, or rock you out with reckless abandon. Music can pull at your emotional strings and elicit an amicable response, or it can energize activism or foment anger when it portrays injustice or a shameful human condition. Music can bring us together or at times it can divide us like a cleaver. Some music is meditative, ethereal, rhythmically drone-like or tonally expansive to create a path to awaken the most spiritual side of our inner psyches or to help heal.

Musician/educator Chris Dingman had a life changing experience in 2018. His father Joe was suffering from what became a terminal complication from cardiac Amyloidosis. Chris offered a musical gift for his father, five hours of spatially soothing music, created specifically to ease the father’s suffering. Before transitioning, the father uncharacteristically told his son “A miracle has happened through this music. It has transformed me over and over again. It has made me stronger, made me want to live life again.” This emotional experience changed the artist’s perception of just how powerful music could be and altered his solo approach to his instrument.

Vibraphonist Chris Dingman has been on my radar since I first caught his delicate and creative work with a quintet at Firehouse 12 in New Haven back in 2010. Since then, I have followed this talented artist as his musical horizons seem to expand exponentially in every passing year. His debut was Waking Dreams with his quintet from 2011. Then came The Subliminal and the Sublime, again his quintet, which I named one of the best releases of 2015. This was followed by his trio on Embrace in 2020, of which I wrote “a stunning treasure of musical tastes, senses, and sounds." His deeply personal solo album to his father Peace followed in 2021.

Dingman’s work is strongly influenced by the tradition of the vibraphone as an instrument in jazz. As a percussionist, he has also absorbed elements of South Indian, Western African, Korean and Brazilian music in his eclectic playing. He was born in San Jose, California, and studied music at Wesleyan with artist/educators like vibraphonist Jay Hoggard and multi-reed/composer Anthony Braxton. I also hear the airy, tubular approach that marks the vibraphonist work of Gary Burton in much of Dingman’s playing. 

Dingman was selected to participate in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at USCLA in 2005 where he spent two years working with such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Terrence Blanchard. He has studied with jazz masters like bassist Rob Carter and Jimmy Health and has collaborated with some of the most progressive and innovative artists in the music today, including altoist Steve Lehman, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey. The man has cred.

On Journeys Vol 1, Dingman creates five, non-symphonic, what I think of as tone poems. They evoke an atmosphere, a landscape, an occurrence, a path, or an immersion into a sensory state. These experiences the artist is aurally capturing are named by their titles. “Silently Beneath the Waves,” Light Your Way,” “Hope-Rebirth,” “The Long Road,” and “Refracted Light.” Each piece is performed solo by Dingman using his skill, his creativity and his resonating vibraphone.

On the fifteen-minute “Silently Beneath the Waves,” Dingman creates a swirling, liquid environment that surrounds you. A womb-like, amniotic fluid-type protective hollow of space and peace. As a listener, if you release your mind, absorb the eddies Dingman creates with his soothing, repetitive, sometimes cascading resonant tones, it can sweep you away, transport you into a sensory world that connects to a primal part of your being.

Chris Dingman (photo credit unknown)

On “Light Your Way” Dingman’s playing sometimes takes on the tone of a mbira (pronounced m-Bee-ra) a Zimbabwe-originated instrument that creates a drone-like, meditative sound by plucking metal tines over a hollowed wood board or resonator. The pedal tone drone he employs creates the base on top of which he improvises a secondary harmony line. In the African Shona people tradition, the instrument is used to summon ancestral spirits. Dingman’s music has become transformational. His experience with healing and the spiritual effects discovered during his father’s illness has changed his musical direction and focus.


On his “Hope-rebirth,” Dingman utilizes the higher register of his instrument to express lightness, spritely elements that have their own effervescence. The artist creates a whirl of notes that seem to be set free, open, released. They rise like emancipated angelic beings from the firma, transversing space and elevating to the next level.

“The Long Road” could be described as Dingman’s aural representation of our journey in life from birth to transition. We are created, we find our way, we discover, we make choices, we love, we lose, and through it all we are on a long  road that hopefully leads us to enlightenment. The artist’s musical choices are hopeful, the road rises, the path may be arduous, but it can lead to a higher state.

“Refracted Light” is an immersive experience, an aural translation of a visual experience. Like we experience joy or awe when we see the refraction or bending of light in a sunset or a sunrise, or we visit the prismatic dispersion of white light into the refracted colors of a rainbow. This is an experience that Dingman's music  points out how we should pay attention to its fleeting beauty.

Enjoy this transcending music

Monday, February 7, 2022

How Hip Can You Be About "You"? The latest by Giacomo Gates.

You : Giacomo Gates : Savant SCD 2189

Baritone vocalist Giacomo Gates has just released his latest album You on the Savant label with an accomplished backing trio that includes the pianist Tim Ray, the bassist John Lockwood and the drummer Jim Lattini. Gates trained ear allows him to reinterpret music often overlooked or underappreciated by others. His inherent musicality and a unique hip approach to vocalizing lyrics allow this vocalist/storyteller to mine the hidden gold in the songs he chooses to sing. 

Gates has previously released albums that follow a theme, like his The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs of Gil Scott-Heron from 2011, Miles Tones: Giacomo Gates Sings the Music of Miles Davis from 2013, and What Time Is It from 2017. In each case Gates’ keen intuition to reimagine the thematic music shows how a tuned-in artist can expand one’s perception of the meaning of these classic compositions.  

On You, Gates has chosen eighteen different compositions, most under three minutes in duration, to weave the thematic essence of this album- songs that emphasize someone else, someone whose significance is animated by the singer’s delivery, someone who is familiar, one who the listener knows, or even someone like You.

Gates baritone is a warm, resonant instrument that he employs with an unpretentious sense of cool. His voice engulfs you with a revelation that this is a  knowing person. He has perceived wisdom in his voice that seems to come from a place where life has been lived and foibles have been experienced. Like a wizened sage who has been there and done that.

Gates sings the words of telling stories penned by songwriting team artists like Bob Russell and Duke Ellington, Ned Washington and Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen, Coleman Hawkins and Thelonius Monk, and even Lucky Thompson to name just a few. These are all well-worn compositions that have been visited by others before, but Gates’ delivery and the banter he creates inside this music offers a fresh perspective, a clarity to the listener about the nuances embedded in this music. Listen to Giacomo Gates singing and you're taking a course in life with Socrates or maybe more likely Lenny Bruce. To this, Gates vocal approach is a passing of the musical baton that he carries from some of his vocalist heroes like Babs Gonzales, Jon Henricks, Mark Murphy, and Eddie Jefferson.

Giacomo Gates (photo by R. Miriello)

The album opens with a swinging “Exactly Like You” and Gates weaves multiple songs into the jazz pastiche he creates including elements of Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” Michel Legrand’s “Watch What Happens,” and even Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema.” Only a musical history student like Gates can skillfully link into being these disparate approaches so seamlessly?

Storytelling is what this music is all about and Gates expertly personalizes his delivery on his improvised intro to “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” worth the price of admission by itself.

Check out the hip “With Plenty of Money and You” and dig the walking bass line from John Lockwood. There is always a knowing commentary in Gates' delivery, with his tongue-in-cheek humor that puts a smile on your face, he relates how bright love could be if only he had money.

The Ellingtonian “I Didn’t Know About You” is a classic torch ballad that Gates brands with his own brand of soul. Just wonderful to hear this song so well brought to life with just the right amount of sincerity.

If you appreciate the judiciously used skill of scatting (using the voice to imitate an improvising instrument like a saxophone) then check out Gates’ on “The Nearness of You.”  His voice flows like a slick skiff’s hull through a calm sea, seamless.

Another delight on this wonderful album is Billy Eckstine’s luscious “I Want to Talk About You,” with a beautiful piano solo by Tim Ray. The sensitive “PS I Love You” is a classic Johnny Mercer torch song that demonstrates just how deep Gates’ understanding is of the meaning behind the words of this love song. The swinging “Are You Havin' Any Fun” is just joyous fun. Mercer’s “I Remember You” is a Gates must hear, with some of the trio’s best in the groove moments, and don’t forget drummer Lattini’s deft use of the rim on this one. Don’t’ miss “Everything But You” and allow yourself to be transported to a Harlem nightclub back in jazzes hey day.  

“You’ve Changed” is the perfect vehicle for the raconteur Giacomo to speak to his audience, captivate them with his smoky voice, and relate an unspeakable intimacy that almost grabs you by the shoulders through the speakers. Listening to Giacomo is like sitting at a bar with him while he sings to you about his life’s woes. As personal as it gets. Don’t miss the whole band on “I’ve Got News for You” or some of Gates’ best blues on Lucky Thompson’s “You Never Miss the Water ‘Till the Well Runs Dry.”

I have to admit I am a big fan of Giacomo Gates. No other singer on the scene today comes close to him in his milieu. Like a cool breeze on your face as you stroll on a warm sandy beach, Gates singing on You is one of those treasures that epitomizes the simple but finer things in life. The compositions are classic, the delivery is hip, the sensitivity is poignant, or just plain fun. So sit back, put up your feet and enjoy this musical journey.