By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Meridies
Origin Records always finds promising new jazz musicians; pianist Dan Cray, one of the youngest to come along in awhile, is the most recent example. He’s in his mid 30s, graduated from Chicago’s Northwestern University in 1999, and currently is working on a master’s degree at New York University, where he’s also a member of the faculty. He was a finalist in both the 2003 Monterey Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition and the 2004 American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellowship.
He has worked steadily with his trio for more than a dozen years, initially in the Chicago area, and then around New York City.
For Meridies, his fifth album, he added tenor saxman Noah Preminger to his basic trio compatriots: bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Mark Ferber. I love jazz trios, but the addition of another instrumentalist always adds value to the group; the associated arrangements are more complex, and the interplay among the artists tells you more about their capabilities, than is revealed in melodic lines and solos.
Cray is an excellent composer, in addition to his talents as an artist and arranger. He wrote six of these eight tracks; the exceptions are Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and Joe Henderson’s “Serenity.” The introductory chords of “Smile,” the album opener, give clear evidence that Cray’s arrangements lean toward a level of imagination and complexity that go beyond the basic melody. “Smile” is a “simple” tune that can be repeated after a single hearing, but this group’s interpretation makes much more out of it.
The same can be said of the rest of the menu. The observation that “these artists think together” certainly isn’t original, but it’s certainly true here. Two tracks are done as ballads; the rest are mid-tempo. Most importantly, all of them swing nicely.
I love the sound that Preminger gets from his tenor sax; it’s smooth and warm, and reminiscent of Warne Marsh and Stan Getz. The piano, bass and drums work together effectively and beautifully.
I expect to hear a lot more from Mr. Cray and his associates.