Every time I turn around, there is a another great jazz pianist. (I think we need to put a cap on the number of great pianists. Just kidding.....) Dan Cray is the latest to cross my path. His new CD, "Meridies", showcases his sparkling technique and intriguing musicianship. It's a disc that has some trio and some quartet. It's a very warm and balanced sounding album, and it's got some edge without being jarring. From the first track, "Smile", you can tell that Cray has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. The arrangement is in 7/4, and features a percolating bass line which implies something more sinister. Cray has command of the changes, but he has some nice rhythmic development. Bassist Clark Sommers holds it down nicely. Mark Ferber is one of my favorite drummers, and he always adds clean, refined power to any session.
"Worst Enemy" is an aggressive original tune in 15/8, which also has a dark undulating bass line. Here Cray adds tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, who does some astonishing work throughout. He's solidly modern; he's got the swing of a Greg Tardy, the altissimo of a Mark Turner, the speed of a Donny McCaslin, and enough reckless abandon to be a "musician of interest."
"Amor Fati" is a contrasting move into introspective ballad territory, where Preminger reminds me a bit of Charles Lloyd. This is simply a duo; Cray is a wonderful, tasteful accompanist. "Serenity" is a Joe Henderson that most New York jazz musicians have played to death. Here, the tempo is brighter than normal, which adds to the challenge. Preminger kills it, verging on stealing the show. I feel like this could have used another take where the trio could have been a little more interactive. It almost seemed like they were holding back. Cray takes a nimble fingered ride. Cray has a lot of vocabulary, but he shines most when he takes a small idea and really plays with it. drummer Ferber nails the trading; I love his time feel, but when he solos, he really hits the drums!
"East" is another trio tune which relaxes and delights. These type of waltzes always remind me of Chick Corea's "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs". "Winter Rose" is a moody straight eighth piece which begins with a vamp harmonically implying C#-7b6 (or A/C#) to Cmaj7. Flat 6 chords always seem appropriate in these types of tunes. Once the melody enters, they veer off pretty quickly. Its colorful and gentle, although the New York vibe comes through in the vamp out.
"At Least" is a soft one, with Ferber showing some nice mallet work. The tune begins in 5, divided in 2 and 3. The melody has a little shade of Mingus blues in it. There's great bass solo by Sommers, and the piece builds in a very feel-good way, until it dies back down again. "March Of The Archetypes" features Ferber beating the mess out of the toms. It's a real contemporary New York type of tune; lots of harmonies, fusion rhythms on the funky side, and burning solos, which are never deterred by any harmonic or metric challenge. You won't go wrong with "Meridies". Dan Cray is another new member of the great jazz piano club.