Chris Dingman Trio: Embrace
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“Forgive/Embrace” first emerged out of studies of Toumani Diabate‘s hypnotic solo kora music. While I was trying to adapt some of his music to the vibraphone, I did some free playing and the initial groove/pattern (the intro) for this piece came about. I started to add a melody, and the piece took a different direction. That’s where the title comes in.
Forgiveness. It seems easy. Say something is forgiven, and the problem is solved. But it’s difficult to forgive what you don’t want to accept. For me, that’s often meant accepting things I don’t like about myself. I feel like a relatively well-adjusted person. But when I’ve really looked at it and been completely honest, being kind to myself has not always come easily.
That’s what started coming up in writing this piece of music. I felt that inner pain coming out through the melody. But I also felt a sense of acceptance. Working through the inner conflict, mending and healing.
One life lesson that has been coming through for me over the past few years, especially from meditating, is that deep down, the mind does not make a distinction between your treatment of another person and your treatment of yourself. You may feel love, hate, indifference, or something else toward another person. But the object of those emotions does not matter – you live within those emotions when you feel them, no matter who they are directed towards. Ultimately, our outward treatment of others is also directed inward, no matter how much we don’t want it to be.
Therefore true love begins within. And what is blocking that love, also begins inside first. But if we accept things as they are and forgive ourselves, we can clear the way for love to come through. You can more fully love others if you truly and fully embrace yourself.
It’s in the end of this piece, when the music broadens and shifts into a different tonality, that I imagine this embrace happening. Warm, strong, also tender and full of love. I am wishing you this inner embrace. Especially in times of darkness and strife, like the time we are in now, it can be difficult to be kind to yourself. But it’s now that we need it most.
Find a Way
It was an April day like any other. Sunny and finally feeling a little warmer. I was walking down the street, heading to a student’s house. Took a quick look at my phone. Oh, a voicemail from my mom. Unusual for a weekday. What might that be about?
When your world turns upside down in an instant, with tragic news, any sense of what was important before that moment is completely gone.
There was an accident. My father was flown by helicopter to a hospital. Sounded like he had a stroke. My sister was in a different hospital. She had been in the car when he was driving. My mother was in a different town over an hour away from either of them. And I was in NYC, 3 hours away. I immediately felt the strongest pull to instantly go to them. They felt worlds away. Feelings of helplessness and dread washed over me in waves.
Two or three hours went by, not knowing if my father was alive or dead. Another few hours knowing he was still alive, but with a completely uncertain outcome. During that time, I was rushing home, packing, then driving, trying to stay aware of my breath, calm down, think more clearly. My partner was with me, helping me, being such a rock. It was a scary and really difficult time to breathe through.
Amazingly, my father recovered. There were tense days in the ICU, followed by weeks of painful recovery in hospitals, and months of rehab. Life would never be the same for him, or our family.
During this entire episode, I kept thinking how fragile our existence is. How quickly and easily it can all come to standstill. On that topic, I wrote a chorale with lyrics that all flowed out in one week.
But there was another piece that didn’t come together so easily. I had a vibraphone part. And I had melodies and chords. But how to put it together? I couldn’t figure it out at the time. Only after a couple years – a separate album release and film score later – did I think about trying to play the vibes part and the melody at the same time. It had previously seemed impossible. Turns out it wasn’t. It was just really unfamiliar and took a lot of chipping away to make it work.
This piece became “Find a Way.” It comes from the uncertainty, stress, and heartbreak of having your world turned upside down, and making it through one step at a time. Crazily enough, the entire world is now experiencing this on some level, with the coronavirus pandemic. We will find a way through. Sending much love to everyone out there during this very difficult time.
Playlist: Inspiration from Mali
With everything currently going on, I sure could use something joyful and life-affirming. Something to give me hope, comfort, and peace. I’d imagine you could use it too.
I made this playlist of entrancing, beautiful and at times mind-bogglingly grooving music from Malian musicians Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure, and Toumani Diabate that has inspired me so much over the past 5-10 years. I hope it can bring some joy and ease to your day.
Oumou Sangare’s voice hits you in your soul. It’s a heart-opening experience to take in the wisdom she is emanating. Whether you know the language or not.. the message comes across. Imbued with grace, energy, and deep conviction, her music has the power to change the world (and it has). It’s music that will free you and let your spirit soar. The great Oumou Sangare is a ground-breaking Wassoulou musician, social justice advocate, and entrepreneur.
Toumani Diabate’s transcendent kora music has saved me more times than I can count. I especially love his solo recordings, the albums Mande Variations and his first album Kaira. This music will take you to another plane of existence. Amazingly, he and his fellow griots (djelis) come from an uninterrupted 700-year ancestral lineage. And he is clearly attuned to and knowledgable about so many other traditions of music. I love this man’s music so much, he’s been a huge inspiration and I hope you get to know it and love it too.
Ali Farka Toure is one of the most well-known musicians from Mali. A lot has been written about him and I won’t try to sum it up here. I’ll just say, what draws me to his music is this feeling of a trance. The refrains are like mantras, bringing you deeper into the experience. It’s music that carries me forward, through the rough patches, down the dusty roads of life. Ali’s life story is completely fascinating too – born in a rural desert area, the only surviving child out of ten, and only becoming known to the world outside Mali at the age of 50.
These three musicians inspired much of the music on Embrace. They’ve had a lasting imprint on my life and music and I am so so grateful for them.
Here again is the playlist link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0jYsiJjxVKIu4tWpKuzvfU?si=-g9NVnclTeGqK6Q0qZwgEg
Album Trailer / NY Times review
Embrace was featured in the New York Times!
“On each of his first two albums, the vibraphonist Chris Dingman made himself an element within his sextet’s prismatic splendor, full of interplay between spiky glistening surfaces — like an El Anatsui work rendered as music. On “Embrace,” his latest album, Dingman cuts the band’s membership in half, and the challenge of building a tapestry falls largely to him. Somehow he rises to it, laying chords atop arpeggios, running across the instrument’s range, all while focusing your ear on the big empty space in the trio’s sound. His study of Indian and West African classical musics has helped to furnish his toolbox, and on “Ali” he pays homage to an inspiration, the Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, though Dingman’s playing here is as influenced by the sound of the kora, a different West African stringed instrument, as by the guitar.” RUSSONELLO
See the full article here:
Out Now: Embrace
The day has come: Embrace is out now!
You can now hear the full album, download it to your heart’s delight, watch a short video teaser, order a CD, and even read some reviews :)
Read on for some more goodies about it all… and save the dates for album release concerts:
May 14 (Queens, NY) and May 15 (New Haven, CT)
Embrace is an album born out of seeking. It’s been a living process as much as a musical one. Searching for ways to be more fully myself – embracing who I am and being cool with that, imperfections and all. And enjoying things more.
Musically, it’s been about digging into what I enjoy hearing on my own instrument, the vibraphone, and exploring ways that it can be the lead voice. A lot of that has come through embracing a wider range of influences, especially music from the griot tradition of Mali that has become some of my absolute favorite over the past decade.
As I embraced these possibilities, there was a surge of new material. “Forgive/Embrace” is based on a kora-inspired vibraphone line that came from studies of Toumani Diabate’s multi-threaded solo music; “Goddess” and “Folly of Progress” are inspired by Oumou Sangare’s strong voice, music, and social activism; “Ali” is dedicated to Ali Farka Toure and his hypnotic grooves. Embracing the inspiration that these artists have given me, I feel more connected with them. With these pieces I have written, I pay humble tribute to them, and to their forebears and broader traditions, of which I feel so fortunate to have heard a small part.
There is also the embrace of the shadows: difficult situations, emotions, and even unacknowledged parts of myself. Pieces such as “Find a Way” deal with negative external life circumstances, and the possibilities that are created when challenges are embraced, change and adaptation welcomed. Similarly, the creation of “Inner Child” was a healing process: the embrace of hurt parts of myself that I had previously ignored.
Childhood plays a strong role on the album for another reason too. I work with children every week teaching music lessons. I realized a while back that what is most important to me about it is helping them connect with their own creativity. As a result I started getting a lot more creative inspiration and joy from teaching. From there, the pieces “Hijinks and Wizardry” and “Mudita” (“sympathetic joy” in Pali) were born.
I hope you enjoy the album! I’ll have more to share about the music here and on my blog in the weeks to come.
+ Happy to report that Embrace has received some glowing reviews and recommendations so far!
“The rounded, burnished glow in Chris Dingman’s music probably has a lot to do with his natural disposition, but it’s also a matter of careful design.”
– Nate Chinen, WBGO
“A beautiful and incredibly fully realized record”
– Jason Crane, The Jazz Session
“Delicately gorgeous… how deeply beautiful it all is. Highly recommended.”
– Rick Anderson, CD Hot List
“Listening to “Embrace” reminds one how much fun it can be to get lost then found in a musical experience. The music … loosens the fears and worries that the world piles up on the doorstep, find a friend or group of friends, share these sounds, and celebrate life and community.”
– Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
Thank you for reading ! Hope you enjoy the music ! More soon !
Why put out albums? It’s a question that comes to mind especially after you put out an album or two. It’s a lot of work and investment. And there is no guarantee of anything happening as a result. I was in this mindset about recording when I started putting together the music for a vibraphone-led trio that ended up becoming Embrace. I had done a few performances, but had no real plan in mind to record the music…yet.
Enter my dear friend Keith Witty. Keith and I go way back – I met him when I was 18. He was the mature and experienced senior and I was the wee freshman at Wesleyan University. I was playing drums at the time. I remember jamming with him in a basement somewhere on campus, and after we finished playing one tune, Keith said “we’ve got work to do for sure.” Unafraid to tell it like it is. But always in a measured way. That’s Keith – or as some of his friends call him, The Neef.
Fast forward to March, 2017. I had done a few performances of my new trio music, and was offered a date at The Owl Music Parlor. I asked Keith to play along with our fellow Wesleyan alum Tim Keiper. We had a blast, and after the gig, Keith started asking me “when are you going to record this?” – to which I would respond with the answer: “ummm…”. Eventually, he took a stronger approach – “can we please make your record now??”
Keith convinced me to take action. I would have done something with the music at some point, but now in retrospect, it might not have happened before everything else that went down over the past couple years. Keith’s positive pressure and camaraderie was what I needed. And as a producer he was an invaluable resource in the studio and throughout the production process, helping me make all kinds of decisions and feel grounded about it all. That objective source of keeping it real and telling it like it is, all in the coolest Neefly kind of way. So here’s to Keith Witty, and all of his amazing help making Embrace happen. I am super grateful for you, the Neef!!! Thank you thank you thank you.
What happens when a jazz vibraphonist listens to a certain Malian singer for years, gets home one day and realizes the tune he started writing is completely inspired by her?
The answer is GODDESS, dedicated to the great Oumou Sangaré.
Linda May Han Oh and Tim Keiper kill the groove and bring a ton of vibe and energy to the song, it was so fun recording with these two. You can hear it now on all streaming platforms
Goddess is latest single from Embrace. Full album releases March 6!
Big thanks to New Music USA for the grant support, to Keith Witty for production, Merle Chornuk and Atomic Sound for recording, David Darlington for mix & master, and Zaneta Sykes and Inner Arts Initiative for design and release
You can also get it now as a download when you pre-order the album on Bandcamp.
It was a few days after my chance meeting on the train. I sat at the piano for the first time since returning from a ten-day meditation retreat. I placed my hands on the keys, played one chord and started weeping.
Wow.. that was unexpected. What was I weeping for? Something that I felt this time, that I had lost for a long while? Maybe something I hadn’t ever connected with before. An inner aliveness that yearned to be free and was finally being released. It felt good, like weight being lifted off of me. Gradually, chord by chord, note by note, the tune “Inner Child“ started taking shape.
It took a few breaks to regain composure and understand what was happening more clearly. Like shedding layers of skin, or peeling an onion, the piece started emerging, as did my newly-forming connection with music. Some words came along with it: “you are not alone, little child.”
Floating whimsy. Ice cream cones. Fairy tales. The vintage veneer of childhood has a nostalgic innocence and light easiness from the vantage point of adulthood. But for most if not all people it also contains painful memories and not-quite-right interpretations of the world and ourselves that formed our ways to thinking and behaving. These patterns continue on into adulthood, until at some point we think back on what happened and why.. and why not think differently?
While composing the song, I was thinking about these more difficult parts of childhood and growing up. I was thinking about the hurt parts of my child self that were seemingly easier to put away and try to ignore once I grew older. And I was connecting with them… connecting with myself as a child, soothing myself as a child, through the music.
I was also thinking about the conflicts between the child-like innocence you can carry forward in life, and how that meets the real world when you are an adult. The ending section of the song (starting at 3:23) is especially about this for me.. the see-saw chords in the bass and later in the vibes that contain hints of danger and tension, with the sweet and innocent melody on top of it. It’s a combination that can be uneasy at times. But music is a miracle drug. Among the many things it does for us, it heals us. It’s not always easy, but all we have to do is tune in.
I had no idea what was going to happen with this piece when I first started writing. But after composing most of it on piano, I realized at some point during the arranging process that it could work well on vibraphone and started playing around with it. I didn’t have a group to play it with… yet. But it got me thinking.
A Chance Meeting
I boarded the train in the afternoon. Ten days of silent meditation and I was still seeing everything with newborn eyes. It was the tail end of a summer of listless energy and strong questioning. Why was I here? Why play music anyway? The challenges of the music life were wearing on me and I was feeling stuck.
A woman boarded the train with a violin and sat next to me. She looked stressed and worn out. I often keep to myself on trains. But I wanted to talk to her. She played and taught violin. Her parents played together in a string quartet. She had two kids. Her mother had stage four cancer and lived four states away – she was going to visit her.
We talked for a long time about many things. The subject often came around to music. I told her I was struggling to make sense of why people play. Think about why birds create their songs, she said. The animals have their sounds. Humans create music. That’s our thing – it’s how we tune in with nature. I loved that.
She offered to play me a recording. It was a string quartet – her parents. I remember putting on the headphones and hearing this incredible weaving of intricate lines, played with such care and warmth. I sensed people working together to make the most beauty they could in each and every moment of the music. It instantly brought me to tears.. and I started crying really hard, next to this person I had just met. Something was so moving about hearing the musicians play together.
It really surprised me. I couldn’t recall the last time I had listened to music and felt that way. And I realized, the meditation had opened me up to have this experience. It was an incredible gift, one that before this I had built walls to prevent myself from receiving. And this woman I had barely met was willing to share that with me, and was sharing all this wisdom with me. When we arrived at Penn Station, I said goodbye and wished her well, and walked off the train.
On the platform, I had this sensation. At this crossroads, she was awaiting the train’s departure, continuing onward in her life journey. And I was walking into my next phase. Our paths crossed for such a short time, and yet it had such an impact on me. I often picture this moment in time, the train sitting in the station, departure imminent. I haven’t heard from or seen her again.. and I can’t even remember her name. But she gave me a special experience I will never forget, and I am so grateful to her.
Embrace will be released March 6th !
EMBRACE with Linda May Han Oh and Tim Keiper, produced by Keith Witty, will be released March 6, 2020!
This album represents a transition in my life, musical and otherwise, that has been a long time in the making and I am beyond excited to share it with you.
You can hear the first track “Inner Child” and even download it now when you pre-order the album. Any of those things can be done at https://www.chrisdingman.com/embrace/
Big big thanks to Zachary Maxwell Stertz for the photography and Bryan Copeland for the design!
More soon !
So excited to be completing this project with the help of New Music USA !! Many thanks to Linda May Han Oh and Tim Keiper for their beautiful playing, and thank you to the amazing Keith Witty for all of the help, bringing so much vision and good energy to the project. And now I can say thank you to the great Dave Darlington of Bass Hit Studios for his masterful mixing work. It’s sounding great, can’t wait to share it with everyone ! Here are some photos from the mix, with Keith Witty and Dave Darlington.
How can we heal unacknowledged wounds within of ourselves? How can we find creative ways to work with challenges and find new directions? The Embrace project explores these quandaries and more in an upcoming recording for vibraphone, bass, and drums.
This trio, featuring Linda Oh on bass, Tim Keiper on drums, and myself, Chris Dingman on vibraphone, was formed out of the desire to find a new musical context that expands the range of expression that comprises my musical voice as an improviser and composer, specifically as a vibraphonist. I wanted the group to feel full and vibrant, yet the limitations of the vibraphone itself create a challenge in this pared-down format. I began working on ways to play two parts at the same time and other approaches to fill out the sound of the group, as part of my composition process. During this journey, unforeseen life changes and special influences guided my way.
This music documents an ongoing period of transition through which I am learning to embrace difficult situations, emotions, and even unacknowledged parts of myself. Pieces such as “Find a Way” deal with negative external life circumstances, and the possibilities that are created when challenges are embraced, change and adaptation welcomed. Similarly, the creation of “Inner Child” was a healing process: the embrace of hurt parts of myself that I had previously ignored.
As these experiences unfolded, I found myself connecting more with other people, and feeling more open-minded. As part of this, I realized that I had compartmentalized my musical life. Over the course of the previous ten years, the Mande, Wassoulou, and desert music from Mali had become some of my absolute favorite. But I hadn’t attempted to learn any of it or explore what that could mean for my own composition and playing. As I embraced these possibilities, there was a surge of new material. “Forgive/Embrace” is based on a kora-inspired vibraphone line that came from studies of Toumani Diabate’s multi-threaded solo music; “Goddess” and “Folly of Progress” are inspired by Oumou Sangare’s strong voice, music, and social activism; “Ali” is dedicated to Ali Farka Toure and his hypnotic grooves.
By embracing the inspiration that these artists have given me, I feel more connected with them and their respective traditions. With these pieces I have written, I pay humble tribute to them, and to their forebears and broader traditions, of which I feel so fortunate to have heard a small part.
The Embrace recording project is being co-produced by Keith Witty (Thiefs, Somi). Upon the release, I plan to build on the success of my previous two albums and follow up on successful performances as a side musician, to expand my listener base by touring this group in North America and Europe – something my previous groups were too large to do with. Along with traditional venues and schools, I am also currently expanding my work into partnerships with nursing homes and senior centers.
Start and End Dates
01/02/2019 — 03/06/2020
New York City, New York