TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Jazz pianist Dan Cray comes from the Chicago suburbs and lives in New York. But much of the music on his new album stems from a year he spent teaching at the University of Nevada in Reno. Our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead, explains.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAN CRAY SONG, "OUTSIDE IN")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Dan Cray's tune "Outside In," the title track from his new quartet album. When the pianist spent a year teaching in Reno, he spent a lot of time hiking in the Sierra Mountains and also along the California coast, where he wrote that number. Following trails and taking in vistas recharge the brain.
It gives you fresh ideas to work on back in town and a fresh appreciation for atmosphere and open space. Midway through his solo on Bud Powell's "Oblivion," Dan Cray lets the time go slack and then rebuilds momentum. The piano gathers strength like a meandering stream heading for the rapids.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAN CRAY SONG, "OBLIVION")
WHITEHEAD: Dan Cray with Mark Ferber on drums and the pianist's longtime bassist, Clark Sommers. Those three have recorded together in another Cray quartet. Here they roll out the red carpet for tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens, who's in exceptionally fine form. On a couple of old ballads, he sounds great just playing the melodies.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAN CRAY SONG, "A FLOWER IS A LOVESOME THING")
WHITEHEAD: Dayna Stephens on Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing." Dan Cray showcases the saxophonist on the 1936 Jimmy McHugh song "Where Are You?" The tenor solo has some of the poise and serenity of John Coltrane's early '60s ballads, not that Stephen sounds like him.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAN CRAY SONG, "WHERE ARE YOU?")
WHITEHEAD: Dayna Stephens. Slow tempos predominate on Dan Cray's album "Outside In," the better to get to those wide open spaces. The players know not to fill all that space or cloud it over. The lack of a hurry helps. The slower you go, the more you can observe and soak up the details. That's one reason city people enjoy getting out of town.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Outside In," the new album by Dan Cray's quartet on the Origin label. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be comic Mike Birbiglia, who many public radio listeners first knew from his stories on This American Life.
He wrote, directed and starred in the film "Sleepwalk With Me." His new film, "Don't Think Twice," is about the members of an improv comedy group who feel left behind when one member joins the cast of a famous TV sketch comedy show. I hope you'll join us.