Christian Dillingham Cascades
Greenleaf Music 2023
By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I have always believed that the more postmodern, multi-generic, and abstract jazz becomes, the more one should concentrate on what the bassist is doing to locate a “center” for the avid listener.
Think of what Charlie Haden contributed to Ornette Coleman’s and Keith Jarrett’s music. Much of Haden’s presence was rooted in his broad aesthetic experience, which allowed him to interpret the lead artist’s vision in a way that both supported the style and opened a door for the jazz fan.
Haden was brought to mind as I was listening to Chicago bassist Christian Dillingham’s first album, Cascades.
Dillingham’s record here—ranging from symphonic to club to avant-garde—speaks for itself. He finally landed a spot in the Chicago Jazz Festival lineup, featuring music from the recent release, full of compositions that adroitly display his many influences, played by a comfortable cast of local musicians who advance his visions with aplomb while the bassist opens sonic doors.
Joining him on this Greenleaf production are Dave Miller on guitar, Milwaukee’s Lenard Simpson on alto and soprano saxophone, and Greg Artry on drums.
The overall ambiance of this record reminds me of Dave Holland’s rolling modalities, while tunes like “One Breath” and “No Froust” juxtapose an insistent bass swing with Miller’s atmospheric expressions and Simpson’s adjoining abstractions.
Like many of the notable current younger generation of artists, Dillingham’s works were inspired by his upbringing. The opener, “The Bottoms,” is a funky, gospelish tribute to his childhood neighborhood. “South State Line Road” is more abstract, a meditation on the process of life featuring commentary from Simpson and reverb from Miller.
Moods and styles shift constantly. “Like No Other” is a swinging post bop effort seemingly based on “Wayfaring Stranger“; “Lost in Desolation” is a synthesized, droning tone poem; “Homeostasis” is a soulfully loping tune with quiet musings by Simpson on soprano and Miller, with a talkative solo by Dillingham; “No Froust” advances from Miller’s strumming and Dillingham’s bowed accompaniment to another driven bass line adorned by Miller and Simpson’s fractured conversation; “Undulation” is a spritely delivered, melodic recovery; “Someday Soon” carries a tone of quiet, anxious hope with a poignant balladic statement from Simpson; and “Code Switch” rides a rock-ish rhythm to communicate, it seems, both the turmoil and fun in the cultural maelstrom.
Throughout, Artry demonstrates why he is a noted accompanist; his consistently solid support and his effective punctuations on material like the edgy, torturous “One Breath” evince the depth of his talent.
Christian Dillingham is certainly a 21st Century artist to keep an eye on, one who has gained the attention of noted jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas and his label, Greenleaf. The various textures of the music on this first recording make for constantly interesting listening, worth the investment in yet another local ensemble with a bright future ahead.
Dillingham and his quartet will play at the Chicago Jazz Festival on the Von Freeman stage, Sunday, September 3, at 1:50 p.m.
Christian Dillingham, Cascades. Greenleaf Music, 2023.
Christian Dillingham, bass
Dave Miller, guitar
Lenard Simpson, alto and soprano saxophones
Greg Artry, drums
About Jeff Cebulski
Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org