journeys vol. 1

It’s impossible to predict where life’s journey will take us. We’ve all been reminded of that fact throughout the stressful and life-changing events of the last few years, but Chris Dingman had arrived at the same conclusion well before any of us went into lockdown or invested in face masks. The vibraphonist’s 2020 release Peace collected five hours of solo improvisations that he’d played while his father was in hospice care.

That profoundly emotional experience forced Dingman to re-examine the role that solo performing played in his life and career – imbuing it with an even deeper sense of mission and introspection. His stunning new album journeys vol. 1 features meditative and atmospheric pieces selected from more than a year of solo explorations.

Release date: February 18, 2022

“fetching, hypnotizing patterns that pull you into their force field”
Giovanni Russonello,
The New York Times

“an intensely personal statement”
– Nate Chinen,
WBGO

“it can sweep you away, transport you into a sensory world that connects to a primal part of your being“
– Ralph A. Miriello,
Notes on Jazz

“There’s something about this that just totally stopped me in my tracks. A wonderful album.”
– Joe Dimino,
Neon Jazz

“spellbinding”
Dave Sumner, Bandcamp

“with these solo masterpieces, Dingman has found his true calling”
Frank Alkyer,
Downbeat
Editor’s Pick

“a compelling and unequivocal triumph.”
Fred Grand,
Jazz Journal

“genuinely arresting”
Morgan Enos,
JazzTimes

“Intimate but not insular, his luminous expressions feel enveloping and involving without ever becoming invasive or effacing”
Derek Taylor, Dusted Magazine

Released February 18, 2022, journeys vol. 1 is compiled from dozens of solo improvisations that Dingman has recorded throughout the pandemic, though it began before then. In 2019 he began sharing monthly tracks with his newsletter subscribers. The project turned into a weekly Bandcamp subscription series after the pandemic hit and other performance opportunities disappeared. To help choose the five tracks that comprise the album, Dingman solicited votes from his subscribers.

“After my father died, I took a step back to figure out what to do with myself musically,” Dingman recalls. “I really wasn’t playing solo very much for the next couple of months; the grief was just too intense.”

He took his next tentative steps forward at the urging of Jazz Gallery director Rio Sakairi, performing two hour-long solo sets at the New York City venue that proved transformative. “It was an intense experience,” Dingman recalls. “After each set I remember feeling disoriented. I lost track of where I was and got really absorbed in the music. The experience felt like a real journey.”

A similar sensation overcame Dingman the following year, when he performed and spoke about the Peace project at a medical school and a conference focused on humanism in the medical field. While playing he began to experience something akin to a waking dream – perhaps not entirely coincidentally, also the title of his 2011 debut album – wherein unfamiliar faces would arise in his mind’s eye. Even stranger, several attendees of these events approached him with eerily similar stories.

“People would come up to me and say, ‘Something strange happened to me when you were playing,” the vibraphonist relates. “They’d seen things in their minds and felt an almost out-of-body experience. I found that really interesting because I was having similar experiences, almost like having a dream going on in my head, which hadn’t happened before.”

Branching off from a longtime interest in West African music, during the pandemic Dingman began to study the music of Zimbabwe and to practice playing the mbira. While he didn’t consciously attempt to replicate his mbira playing on the vibes, the instrument’s influence can be heard throughout journeys vol. 1 in the reverberant ripples and chiming percussiveness of some of Dingman’s entrancing melodies.

The resonances became even more uncanny once Dingman began to learn more of the mbira’s role in the culture and traditions of Zimbabwe. “I was blown away when I when I started learning that the mbira is used to summon ancestral spirits,” he explains. “The music is used in ceremonies involving spirit mediums and people becoming possessed. Its whole purpose is to serve as a telephone to the spirits. That made me think differently about that dreamlike state and the faces I’d seen recently. I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of that.”

Whatever the deeper and more mysterious connections being made in Dingman’s music, the regular solo recordings certainly maintained a lifeline between the artist and his fans during the pandemic months. The mesmerizing beauty and gentle, resonant rhythms of the music also parallel Dingman’s longtime meditation practice, conjuring an atmospheric headspace ideal for either deep contemplation or blissful escape.

The music has also expanded into other creative areas for Dingman, as he’s begun to pen stream-of-consciousness writings inspired by the music (two of which are reprinted in the vinyl artwork of journeys vol. 1). In some cases this work has come full circle, with the imagery of the texts then sparking new music entirely unrelated to the original source material.

The struggle between meditation and anxiety is woven throughout the 15-minute opening piece, “silently beneath the waves.” As Dingman describes in his accompanying poem, the sensation of water rushing over one’s face can be refreshing as well as threatening, offering the possibilities of both renewal and drowning. The metaphorical imagery alludes to the deep emotions and isolation induced by the pandemic, a new and different source of grief.

The airy and spacious “light your way” inspired thoughts of floating and healing, sensations that reemerge in the album’s closing track, “refracted light” – electronically reimagined from a sample of “light your way,” the piece provides a lustrous coda for the album.

“hope-rebirth” was recorded prior to the pandemic, and if its titular themes feel even further from reality today than they did when recorded, Dingman still holds it out as an antidote for the travails of daily life. It’s a piece that itself is a journey, constantly moving forward, an approach inspired by advice given by trumpet great Terence Blanchard while Dingman was studying at the Thelonious Monk Institute (now the Herbie Hancock Institute).

“He was fond of giving us assignments that were pretty demanding,” Dingman says. “Once he asked us to write something that starts one place and goes somewhere else. He kept saying, ‘Tell me a story’ or ‘take me on a journey.’ That really stuck with me, and all the music I’ve made since has done that in one way or another.”

In opposition to the promise of “hope-rebirth” – but at the same time an affirmation of those themes – is “the long road,” recorded on Martin Luther King Day, invoking inspiration from the ongoing struggles of the Civil Rights movement. “Images came to mind of people marching peacefully, feeling the long path of history leading to where we are today. How far we’ve come, and how far there is to go. That steady push for justice, and the need for strength as we move ever forward.”

With journeys vol. 1, Chris Dingman moves forward into new realms of music. Shimmering and pensive, ethereal and captivating, the album is both a first chapter as well as a snapshot of a continual and ever-elusive process.

Credits and Thanks

All compositions by Chris Dingman (Between Worlds BMI)

Mixed and Mastered by Dave Darlington at Bass Hit Studios, NYC
Photography by Zachary Maxwell Stertz
Design by Bryan Copeland

Special thanks to Zaneta Sykes, Carolyn Dingman, Betsy Braverman, Ike Sturm, Kristofer Ek, Stuart Lennon,
Thomas Yates, Kohei Oyamada, Thomas Loewner, Kirk Leonard, Stacy Mar, Frederic Isler, Matt Kilmer, Anne Pope,
Hannah Barnard, Renae Travis, Tiffany Leung, Cathleen Caron, and Ralph Parus

This music was created and recorded on Lenape territory

© & ℗ 2022 Chris Dingman, under license to Inner Arts Initiative, Inc.
All Rights Reserved