In an intimate and visceral way Brooklyn vibraphonist Chris Dingman knows too well that music can ease life’s most difficult passages.
The San Jose-raised jazz musician set out to create new sounds in the summer of 2018 to help comfort his father, Joseph Dingman Jr., as he faced his final weeks in hospice. In honing a body of meditative solo pieces he not only provided his father with a sonic embrace, Dingman found another way for them to connect as the project became a collaboration.
“The music really helped him,” said Dingman, who returns to the Bay Area for a series of concerts next week. “He got so into it he was involved in turning the music into an album. We named the pieces together.”
Dingman ended up honing five hours of unaccompanied music for vibraphone, which he released in June of 2020 on a five-disc box set “Peace.” He had started playing the music in hospitals and hospice spaces when the pandemic shut down the project, though in recent months he’s started finding opportunities to bring “Peace” into settings where the soothing sounds are eminently welcome.
The music he’s presenting on this West Coast tour, which includes performances Nov. 2 at Mr. Tipple’s in San Francisco, Nov. 3 at the Art Boutiki in San Jose, and Nov. 6 at the Back Room in Berkeley, is inspired by a different kind of musical mesmerism. In absorbing influences from traditional Malian music one might expect him to gravitate to the balafon, the gourd-amplified xylophone.
Instead, he drew inspiration from the lapidary melodies of the 22-string kora. He documented the music on his 2020 album “Embrace,” a trio session with bass star Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tim Keiper that introduced a lapidary sound “that’s a big departure from my earlier work,” he said.
“About half the tunes are inspired by kora music from Mali, where I’m creating these layers on the vibes. But a lot of the other music on the album was inspired by teaching and working with children. They’re tunes with a lot of childlike joy that people seem to find refreshing.”
The buoyant lyricism of the music on “Embrace” does offer an intense contrast to his earlier recordings. Dingman first gained widespread attention around 2007 when his professors at the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute, jazz legends Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, recruited him for a tour.
As suggested by his aptly titled debut album, 2011’s “Waking Dreams,” and the follow up, 2015’s “The Subliminal and the Sublime,” he set out to create evocatively cinematic soundscapes that were both beautiful and unsettling. With bassist Linda Oh, pianist Fabian Almazan, trumpeter and Oakland native Ambrose Akinmusire and drummer Justin Brown, he collaborated with a brilliant cadre of leading jazz artists to bring his vision to Technicolor life.
For the Bay Area shows he’s performing with bassist Richard Lloyd Giddens Jr., director of jazz studies at Fresno State, and Costa Rican-born drummer Rodolfo Zuniga, assistant professor of jazz studies at Cal State Fullerton. At the Art Boutiki, his trio is paired with Oakland vibraphonist Dillon Vado’s group in a concert billed as the Art of the Vibes Trio.
The 31-year-old Vado, whose parents own and run Art Boutiki, came up on the South Bay scene a decade after Dingman had left town to study at Wesleyan University, where he found an ideal mentor in the innovative vibraphonist/composer Jay Hoggard. They got to know each other when Dingman came back to San Jose and needed to rent an instrument. He ended up compensating Vado with a lesson, and they’ve been in touch ever since.
“As a fellow vibes player and independent artist Chris is an inspiration for me,” Vado said. “He’s done a number of really creative things, like his music for meditation, and a subscription-based Bandcamp membership He’s been a good example of taking a percussion and jazz background and being really creative to make a living and be engaged and committed to the music you’re making.”
“Our sets are going to be very different. Chris plays such beautiful music, these really amazing melodies. I love odd time signatures and really polyrhythmic phrasing, and Isaac and Lukas have a high facility for that. It’s a situation that puts me right at the edge of my skill level. And it’s such a beautiful sounding room. My brother is one of the only people who know how to mic vibes.”
Contact Andrew Gilbert at email@example.com.
When & where: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at Mr. Tipple’s, 39 Fell St., San Francisco; $12-$20; mrtipplessf.com; 8 p.m. Nov. 3 at The Art Boutiki, 44 Race St., San Jose; $20-$25; artboutiki.com; 4 p.m. Nov. 6 at The Back Room, 1984 Bonita Ave., Berkeley; $18-$20; backroommusic.com