Change is never easy, but it's often the key to growing as a person and an artist. Pianist Dan Cray has released a series of well-received CDs and carved out a comfortable musical existence with his trio in Chicago, but he understood that a change of scenery and a jump into jazz's deep end would do him good.
Cray made the move to New York City in 2009, but Meridies is the first outing released under his name since that time. He stayed busy during the intervening years, earning a Master's Degree in Music from New York University, and later teaching there as an adjunct professor and connecting with likeminded musicians on and off the bandstand. Now, the fruits of his labor are ready to be enjoyed and eight delectable numbers are given up for consumption on this, his first quartet date.
While the bulk of the program is made up of Cray originals, the album opens with an old favorite, albeit dressed in new attire. Cray takes a page out of Jacky Terrasson's book, refashioning Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" with a rolling undercurrent and odd-metered facelift. The only other cover?saxophonist Joe Henderson's "Serenity"? doesn't live up to its name and that's a good thing. The quartet nails all the hits with precision as the song takes flight and plenty of excitement follows
While Cray's strength in a trio setting comes to the fore on occasion here, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger's presence takes the music to a higher level. Preminger has quickly risen through the ranks to become one of the most notable young saxophonists on the scene today and it's easy to see why. He colors within the composer's intended lines and shapes melodies with class and charm, but he also brings a free-spirited vibe into the mix during his soloing. Occasional, brilliantly idiosyncratic and wily thoughts are mixed in with more conventional notions, which keep everyone on their toes.
Cray covers all of the usual ground within this program, from odd-metered escapades ("Smile") and ballads ("At Least") to waltzes ("East 69") and beyond, but through it all he shows maturity through restraint. While Cray shows himself to be capable of uncorking stunning solos, he does so with a touch that's less percussive and more sensitive than the majority of pianists coming up today. The rhythm section?bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Mark Ferber?mirror this quality within their own playing, making this a program of music that finds power in ideas and individuality, rather than heavy-handed exploits. Meridies merits attention for all of these reasons and it appears that change clearly looks good on Cray.