There is nothing iconoclastic about pianist Dan Cray. He derives his piano style more from Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones than Matthew Shipp or Ran Blake. He has been driving a trio through four previous recordings: Who Cares (Cray Sounds, 2001); No One (Blujazz productions, 2003); Save Us! (Blujazz productions, 2005); and Over Here Over Heard (Crawdad, 2008). Cray has also provided movie music for actor Michael Keaton's The Merry Gentleman (2009) and appeared on the television show Gossip Girls.
Cray remains in firm control on his Origin Records debut, Meridies, where he fronts a quartet that includes tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger and makes some very compelling mainstream jazz. But it is on the trio outing, Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," that Cray sounds restless and willing to color a bit outside of the lines. He takes this slightly sad ballad and injects it with a bit of island breeze through his left hand, transforming it into a rolling mid-tempo number that would be appropriate for any set opener. Cray, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Mark Ferber stretch the dynamics of the mainstream in the middle section of the tune where a grand empathy is shared. All three participants are miked and mixed closely, revealing how trio jazz is supposed to sound.