Judging especially from the liner notes, life change and forward motion are a major theme of Dan Cray?s new quartet CD, Meridies. As a virtuosic pianist who has recently made the journey from Chicago to New York, the sidemen selection seems only natural. Cray and bassist Clark Sommers have both worked in Chicago and New York, while saxophonist Noah Preminger and drummer Mark Ferber are both established New York musicians. In the instance of this recording, however, geographic symbolism plays second fiddle to the astounding musical rapport of this band. This CD, in particular, features six of Cray?s outstanding original compositions, as well as two standards.
Cray is a remarkable young piano player, possessing a delicate touch, superb technique, and tasteful modern phrasing. While he obviously has chops to spare, this recording is truly a group effort, and the degree to which Cray listens to his rhythm section and allows musical ideas to flow freely is quite amazing. Preminger is established himself as one of the top-call saxophonists in New York. Much like Mark Turner and Chris Cheek, there is a relaxed Zen flow to Preminger?s solos, though he is already exhibiting his own unique identity on the instrument. Bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Mark Ferber are both well known for their sympathetic accompaniment, which is a particular highlight of this recording.
There are trace elements of modern influences in this recording such as Brad Mehldau and Mark Turner. However, it is astounding, given Cray?s few years in New York, that the group was able to develop such a unique musical rapport. Sommers and Ferber thrive on Cray?s ?Worst Enemy,? which alternates between 5/4 and 4/4 time. Cray?s solo on this tune is a delight, teeming with oblique melodicism and textural inventiveness. Cray?s lovely duet ballad, ?Amor Fati,? is an ideal feature for Preminger?s mellifluous tone. Preminger?s plaintive solo is equally appealing, followed by Cray?s brief but exquisitely lyrical solo.
Cray immediately follows the serene ballad with a blistering up-tempo version of Joe Henderson?s ?Serenity.? Preminger solos with a remarkable sense of melodic direction at the fast tempo and Cray?s crisp touch shines on his own solo. Both musicians then trade with Ferber, showcasing the drummer?s terrific soloing skills. Cray opens ?East 69? with a radiant solo cadenza before launching into a crisp waltz feel as a piano trio. Although Cray and Sommers certainly play excellent solos, it is the trio rapport, particularly the sympathetic accompaniment of Sommers and Ferber, that highlights this tune. Cray?s ?Winter Rose (1728)? is another beautiful original that hints slightly at Keith Jarrett?s best European quartet recordings. ?At Least? features excellent solos by Sommers, Cray, and Preminger. The CD ends on a superb note with ?March of the Archetypes.? Ferber sounds off the march with a hip drum groove, further complemented by Cray?s pulsating accompaniment and Preminger?s deep groove on the melody. Preminger?s tenor solo is filled with excellent melodic twists and turns and Cray plays what is possibly his best solo on the recording.
One minor criticism of this excellent recording is that Charlie Chaplin?s ?Smile? and Cray?s arrangement of the tune do not seem quite simpatico. In fact, Cray?s 7/8 bass line and reharmonization are delightful and one wonders if they could have provided the springboard for yet another inspired composition (this recording certainly has many). The superb individual playing, wonderful original compositions, and cohesive group dynamic make this an outstanding recording by a great pianist.