On Chris Dingman's sophomore album, 2015's The Subliminal and the Sublime, the creative jazz vibraphonist/composer finds inspiration in nature, and the result is an often stunning album of both grand gestures and detailed, percolating undercurrents. Featuring alto saxophonist Loren Stillman, pianist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Ryan Ferreira, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Justin Brown, Dingman's sextet displays true mastery of wide dynamics across a suite whose extended-form movements culminate in strikingly dramatic fashion. Opener "Tectonic Plates" begins with high singing tones and chordal volume swells, creating an ethereal ambience over which Stillman introduces a calm melody, briefly joined by sharper yet still understated support from the other bandmembers to close this lovely four-and-a-half-minute intro. But the album is dominated by its three lengthy movements in the 16-minute (the concluding "All Flows Forth") to nearly 20-minute ("The Pinnacles") range, starting with the second track, "Voices of the Ancient." This 17-and-a-half-minute piece begins with an evocative, spare chord sequence from Almazan, whose piano is complemented by the ringing call of Ferreira's distant six-string and the bell-like clarity of Dingman's vibes. After Oh and Brown enter, Stillman steps out thematically and then launches a brief solo, limber yet attractively economical, before Dingman's own glistening turn in the spotlight draws his bandmates momentarily into more freewheeling territory.
The ensemble lowers the dynamic as piano, guitar, and vibraphone ostinatos hypnotically frame Oh's expressive solo; a tight full-band interlude (and fine showcase for Brown) then crests and dissipates into a barely audible background hum. Here, at roughly the piece's midpoint, the group builds from drifting, widely spaced sparkling phrases into more focused form, ebbing once more before ramping up into a memorably gorgeous, immensely satisfying finale. It's a joyfully ebullient moment, with a theme carried forward into the initially subdued and then swelling, nearly orchestral variations of the immediately following "Plea," which in turn bridges into "The Pinnacles," whose opening lingers in a floating ambience that recalls, particularly after the entrance of Stillman's high-register alto, the mood created by Miles Davis' "In a Silent Way" about 45 years earlier. But "The Pinnacles" soon shifts into a tighter construction, with lightly embraced angularity, lovely melodic phrases, and harmonic resolutions building from one to another, vibrantly yet deeply realized in a measured tempo before the proceedings descend into an unexpectedly dark dirge, drawing a Stillman solo into perturbations along the way. No worries, though: there is still room for both majesty and reflection before the piece segues into "All Flows Forth," elegant, lyrical, and understated to start but ultimately revealing itself as another multifaceted ride. Here, creative jazz is married most explicitly to layered, propulsive Reich-ian minimalism, which briefly segues into explosive piano-trio free jazz before wending its way through expansive spaces to The Subliminal and the Sublime's thrilling and ultimately contemplative finish. Finding illumination in nature's minute workings as well as its most sweeping vistas, Chris Dingman has translated his sense of wonder into, purely and simply, a magnificent album.