Jazz review: Chris Dingman Quartet at the Blue Whale
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By any measure, 2011 was a good year for jazz vibraphone. Led by headline-grabbing recordings by New York City’s Chris Dingman and Chicago’s Jason Adasiewicz, the instrument is enjoying an intriguing mini-resurgence of late, and that’s before even considering the year’s albums by artists both new and familiar in Gary Burton, Stefon Harris and Warren Wolf.
A lush and immersive recording, Dingman’s brilliant debut ‘Waking Dreams’ is thick with rich ensemble playing, an emphasis that gains strength with turns by fellow top-flight talents Fabian Almazan and Ambrose Akinmusire to flesh out Dingman’s atmospheric vision. In bringing the album to Little Tokyo’s the Blue Whale Tuesday night, however, Dingman was backed by a cracking band of L.A. musicians on the rise in their own right that included pianist-composer Josh Nelson and a rhythm section of Hamilton Price and Zach Harmon, who backed buzz-heavy keyboardist Austin Peralta in an impressive show last spring.
Working with a smaller ensemble, Dingman’s intricate musicianship shifted more to the center of his loosely tangled compositions, which bore little sign of being in unfamiliar hands thanks to a taut rhythmic foundation and a rich, near-telepathic interplay between Dingman and Nelson. Working around a three-note figure in set-opener ‘Clear the Rain,’ Nelson’s piano curlicued around Dingman’s vibraphone explorations with such subtle yet empathetic support it bordered on subliminal.
While Dingman’s compositions retained their oblique, loosely twisted atmosphere such as on the echoing, melancholy ballad ‘Manhattan Bridge’ and the lightly swung ‘Zaneta,’ the group also explored the jazz vibraphone’s roots with dips into Bobby Hutcherson’s catalog. A raucous run through ‘Same Shame’ was a boisterous highlight as the group accelerated behind Harmon’s hard-hitting acrobatics, which at times could overpower the trebly, intricate interplay between Nelson and Dingman, who showed he’s just as comfortable on a sprint as he is with more contemplative pursuits. Frequently marveling at his band’s deft facility with his music despite a relatively short time together, Dingman led the quartet into further selections from ‘Waking Dreams’ midway through the second set. After feathering an evocative, almost drone-like texture from across his vibraphone, Dingman led the band into the twisted, off-balance melody of ‘Jet Lag,’ which was buoyed by a flickering, insistent funk foundation from Harmon and Price. With Dingman only needing to direct traffic with occasional hand gestures, the band locked behind him as he took a solo, sounding for everyone in the room that another good year was well on its way.
-- Chris Barton