Encounters with the wonders of nature have a way of snapping everything into perspective and tamping down humanly worries and concerns. Too often we spend time absorbed and obsessed with working from the inside out, projecting ourselves into the world. But sometimes it's better to simply go the other way and let the beauty that exists on the outside infiltrate and influence the human spirit and direction. Pianist Dan Cray's second release on the Origin imprint, strongly informed by a year spent working and communing with nature in Big Sur, says as much.
There's a zen-like quality to much of what appears on Outside In, with patience and introspection often serving as the guiding hands of the music. Cray's own wistful "OdP (Bird Of Paradise)" and his interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" both show a man - or a group of men, if we're referencing this quartet - at peace, content with the music's slow-flow aesthetic. They're beautiful songs of escape that reward close listening without requiring close examination.
After reading all of that, some may worry that that this may be music mired in meditative thought or stuck in a low gear, but that's hardly the case. One need only hear this group's charged take on Bud Powell's "Oblivion" to be reminded that the call of the wild is just as much a part of nature as the sound of silence and the slow-paced development of the season(s). Equanimity and energy are both in balance in Cray's world and in his companions. Saxophonist Dayna Stephens manages to magnify the essence of these songs, as on the tranquil "Where Springs"; bassist Clark Sommers builds a sturdy foundation, adds surprising colors from below, and delivers one of the standout solos on the album on "Where Are You"; and drummer Mark Ferber brilliantly colors around the borders of the music, and, in more excitable environs, adds energy without the needless volume and aggression that often come with it.
Outside In, as reflected on the album cover, is a door that opens on nature's truths and on the creative consciousness of Dan Cray. A trip through that door is highly recommended, but be forewarned: You may never want to walk back out.