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Chris Dingman: The Subliminal and the Sublime

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In his second album as a leader, Chris Dingman has brought forth a work of large ambition and impressive realization. The Subliminal and the Sublime is a through-composed five-part suite commissioned by Chamber Music America. Dingman was inspired to write it (over 18 months) by travels in the wilderness of the American West.

He derives a remarkable sense of scale from six instruments, and believably portrays massive Nevada mountains and vast California canyons. But he also does close-ups. “Voices of the Ancient,” one of three long movements, contains details like distant rainfall (from Fabian Almazan’s piano and Linda Oh’s bass) and a swath of fireflies in a midnight forest (from Dingman’s vibraphone, in collaboration with silence). Piano, vibes, alto saxophone (Loren Stillman’s) and guitar (Ryan Ferreira’s) overlap in tonal range. Collectively, they form a formidable treble sonority that continuously changes shape. Beneath, Oh and drummer Justin Brown generate energy in waves.

This music moves in keeping with its subject matter. It looms, then gathers and sweeps. Sometimes the aerial perspective is so high it takes in the arc of the earth. In the three long pieces (“The Pinnacles” and “All Flows Forth” are the others), Dingman’s themes start as a few lingering significant notes, then evolve. Threads of counterpoint coalesce into intricate designs. The ensemble is so seamless and organic that it matters not which individual voice momentarily emerges to introduce the next motif or mood shift. Stillman’s piercing, plaintive saxophone and Dingman’s hovering vibes are manifestations of one consciousness.

This album is meticulously assembled in the service of

deep emotion. For Dingman, phenomena of the natural world, like crumbling landscapes in Pinnacles National Park, are personal. So are circles of new redwoods that grow from the roots of deceased redwood trees. His achievement, through music, is to make those natural mysteries and renewals personal for us all.

Originally Published