The DOWN BEAT Rising Star Vibraphonist Draws Inspiration From The Natural World For “The Subliminal and the Sublime,” Premiering Nov. 22 & 23 in New Haven, CT and New York City
On November 22–23, vibraphonist/composer Chris Dingman will premiere an expansive new suite, “The Subliminal and the Sublime,” in a pair of Northeast U.S. performances. Commissioned by Chamber Music America, the sweeping, evocative piece is inspired by Dingman’s experiences with the natural world: stunning sights, unexpected moments, or transcendent impressions that have proven inspirational.
“The basic idea came from noticing that there were certain phenomena or scenes in the world that particularly inspire me,” Dingman says. “I’d just be walking around and all of a sudden be struck by something I’d see, maybe a certain pattern in the sky that became extremely intriguing to me. I wanted to look a little more deeply at what’s going on inside of me that’s creating that.”
“The Subliminal and the Sublime” is the long-awaited follow-up to Dingman’s critically acclaimed Waking Dreams, which was named Debut Album of the Year in the 2012 Rhapsody Jazz Critics’ Poll and was included in Best of the Year lists in JazzTimes, Slate.com, The NYC Jazz Record, AllAboutJazz.com, and others. The new suite combines a variant of his Waking Dreams ensemble with another ongoing duo project, with guitarist Ryan Ferreira.
The premiere will take place on Friday, November 22 at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT, and on Saturday, November 23 at SubCulture in New York City. The line-up for these performances features a sextet of rising stars of the jazz world: Dingman, Ferreira, saxophonist Loren Stillman, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Justin Brown. Following these performances, the band will enter the Clubhouse Recording Studio in Rhinebeck, NY to document the music for Dingman’s next release.
Each movement of the suite is a journey in itself, traversing wide swaths of terrain with cinematic sweep and abundant colors. The suite’s opening movement is inspired by a winding drive through the towering redwood forest of Jedediah Smith State Park in Northern California. “A year later,” Dingman recalls, “I was playing and instantly saw the redwoods in my mind. It was crazy – I don’t sit around thinking about redwoods. But I started to develop that music. I researched the redwoods, which are fascinating trees – old and gigantic.”
The resulting music captures the colossal stature of the ancient forest, but also the environment in which they live, a constant fog caused by the interaction of several different microclimates. The piece then segues into a separate section inspired by another moving outdoor experience, when fireflies unexpectedly swarmed a campsite in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains.
“I’d never seen anything like it before,” Dingman says. “It got pitch dark and then thousands of fireflies came out. You got this sense of how far away from you they were, which gave a really big sense of depth, but then their flickering created intricate patterns that took up your entire vision. It almost became disorienting. No one firefly had any idea of what was happening in the greater scheme, but what they created together was amazing.” In order to replicate the experience, Dingman composed a section that utilizes flickering rhythmic figures and the individual abilities of his chosen band mates to create a similarly organic whole.
Another movement draws on a visit to central California’s Pinnacles National Park, which features stark and striking rock formations, the remnants of an extinct volcano that has traveled over millions of years from its original location on the San Andreas Fault. “It’s an almost otherworldly place,” Dingman says. “So I tried to score it like a movie. And I found that what was most interesting to me about these scenes had a lot to do with my own perception of how they got there; how they formed. I was looking at a still scene but imagining how everything came to be this way because of very active dynamic processes.”
A third movement is inspired by a bird’s-eye-view of the country, prompted by an airplane flight over Nevada where the broad patterns of rivers could be clearly seen cutting through the land. That experience led Dingman to think about the circularity of water on the planet, the cycle of rainfall, flow from land and rivers to the ocean, and evaporation back into the atmosphere. This section draws on his inspiration from minimalist classical composers like Steve Reich and John Adams, as the vibes, guitar, and piano lock into repeating, evolving patterns.
Though all of the movements reference relatively recent experiences and don’t paint exclusively Californian scenes, as the writing process drew to a close Dingman realized that they drew an especial nostalgic tinge from his memories of growing up in the Golden State. “I took a trip to California last summer, which turned out to be the last time I went out there before my parents moved away,” Dingman says. “There were lots of poignant associations with certain places and time I spent with them, so I think that started coming through on a more subconscious level.”
A native of San Jose, Dingman arrived in New York in 2007 and has performed with leaders as diverse as Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Steve Lehman, Adam Rudolph, Gerald Clayton, and Harris Eisenstadt. He studied at Wesleyan University with Anthony Braxton, Jay Hoggard, and Pheeroan akLaff, and the Thelonious Monk Institute, where he came under the tutelage of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Terence Blanchard. In 2012, he was named Rising Star Vibraphonist of the Year in Down Beat Magazine, was an Up-and-Coming Artist of the Year nominee in the Jazz Journalist Awards, and was featured on NPR’s Piano Jazz Rising Stars. Dingman recently co-founded the Inner Arts Initiative, a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to impact people’s perception of music and the world around them through concerts, workshops, and multi-disciplinary experiences.
The Subliminal and the Sublime was created with support from Chamber Music America’s Commissioning and Ensemble Development program, funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Foundation.