Bright, lean, and crisp, Embrace, the new recording from vibraphonist Chris Dingman, contrasts strikingly with its predecessors, The Subliminal and the Sublime from 2015 and Waking Dreams from 2011. Both of those recordings were sextet dates spotlighting the leader’s dense, complex compositions. Embrace has the loose, limber feel of a blowing session, albeit one with unusual instrumentation: vibes, bass (Linda May Han Oh), and drums (Tim Keiper); the underrated vibesman Walt Dickerson recorded in this austere context in the mid-’70s, but it hasn’t been well utilized since.
The sound isn’t sparse. Dingman’s deeply reverberant tone, Oh’s rock-solid foundation, and Keiper’s sympathetic accompaniment create rich sonic textures. Many of the tracks bring to mind a glorious vista of sun-drenched hills or the delicious possibilities of weekend mornings at bountiful greenmarkets. Others are more meditative, some inspired by the music of the great Malian guitarist/singer Ali Farka Toure, and those tracks resonate with a meditative, almost spiritual quality. “Ali” in particular owes something to Toure’s work with kora master Toumani Diabaté.
Dingman—who studied at Wesleyan and the Thelonious Monk Institute and who has appeared on pivotal recordings by Ambrose Akinmusire, Harris Eisenstadt, Steve Lehman, and Jen Shyu—nimbly moves between chordal, melodic, and percussive functions in his music. By showcasing his formidable improvisatory skills on Embrace, Dingman asserts his role in the forefront of a crew of emerging vibraphone players including Joel Ross, Patricia Brennan, and Sasha Berliner. A mainstream story bearing the headline “Good Vibes” seems more inevitable than ever.