The eight tracks on pianist Dan Cray’s Meridies project each run from five to seven minutes long, and that simple fact is the first indication that the full quartet (which includes tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, drummer Mark Ferber, and bassist Clark Sommers) doesn’t believe in rushing things. Everyone gets a chance to shine in the arrangements which are very tight, yet humble and unassuming.
A moderately tempo-ed arrangement of Charles Chaplin’s “Smile” opens the set and allows nimble-fingered Cray to put a grin on our faces. The only other cover on the album is sax player Joe Henderson’s “Serenity,” and that piece drives home the melodic and improvisational cohesion of the unit. Just like Cray, young Preminger is a force to be reckoned with. His distinctive style and sound fit very nicely with Cray’s. And, I hear plenty of range being used on his sax, along with sweet dynamics, new phrases, and creative ideas. Along with some influence by the likes of John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Sonny Rollins, Preminger shows his potential as a great tenor man.
Another of Cray’s strengths is his skill at composition. His six originals (“Worst Enemy,” “Amor Fati,” “East 69,” “Winter Rose (1728),” “At Least,” and “March of the Archetypes”) are sturdy offerings that provide diverse moods and refreshing perspectives. The pianist relocated from Chicago to New York a couple years ago, and in the liner notes, he admits that the move involved “moments of exhilaration and crushing self-doubt.” However, we’re also pleased to hear that Dan Cray’s new environment has also brought him “fresh artistic inspiration and musical relationships.”
Cray’s bio indicates that he graduated with bachelor degrees in Jazz Studies and European History from Northwestern University. His Chicago-based trio (with Sommers and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte) released four albums during the period from 2001-2008. Now, Cray’s debut on Origin Records definitely has me wanting to hear more from this skillful player with an evocative, affable style.