By Bobby Reed | Published May 2020
Some brilliant young players have a knack for finding one another. Such is the case with Chris Dingman and Linda May Han Oh. In the 2012 DownBeat Critics Poll, Dingman topped the category Rising Star–Vibraphone and Oh won the category Rising Star–Bass. The vibraphonist recruited her for his 2015 sextet album, The Subliminal And the Sublime, and he invited her back to play on his latest effort, the trio disc Embrace. The two are in good company alongside drummer Tim Keiper, whose resume includes work with Cyro Baptista, David Byrne and John Zorn.
In recent years, Oh has toured with world with Pat Metheny and done such great work with so many players that she has become a highly sought-after collaborator, one who can shine in a variety of settings. On Embrace—a collection of nine Dingman originals—her tasteful solos on “Find A Way” and “Hijinks And Wizardy” serve the song, without lapsing into any grandstanding.
Recorded at Atomic Sound studio in Brooklyn and produced by Keith Witty, the focal point of Embrace is the luminous timbre of Dingman’s vibes. The trio setting not only makes his fluid dynamics central to the overall sound, it also showcases his considerable gift for melody. A composition like “Hijinks And Wizardy” would lend itself to interpretation by a pianist or soprano saxophonist.
A few of the songs in the program were informed by Dingman’s deep interest in West African music traditions, especially the work of players from Mali. Dingman titled “Ali” in honor of the late guitarist/singer Ali Farka Touré, “Goddess” was inspired by vocalist Oumou Sangaré, and “Forgive/Embrace” nods to the work of kora player Toumani Diabaté. By drawing inspiration from across the Atlantic Ocean, Dingman is, in his own small way, illustrating how musicians from around the globe are united by a common language.
At a time when musicians’ careers are in peril due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to applaud the efforts of organizations who support the arts, such as New Music USA, which helped Dingman make Embrace a reality. In the album’s liner notes, Dingman cites five organizations that have, in turn, provided financial support to New Music USA. When an album is this strong, fans should be particularly appreciative of the do-gooders behind the scenes, helping artists bring their visions to fruition.