Dan Cray is the epitome of the evolving artist. A searching musician looking to push his own artistic limits and willing to put himself through the grinding self evaluation that comes with performing jazz in New York City. Cray's a Chicago native with his first four recordings featuring his trio and essentially building his foundation on standards and jazz classics. Cray was certainly not taking the easy way out as any great musician or athlete will tell you that to achieve greatest you must first master the fundamentals.
Meridies is Cray's first offering since moving to the Big Apple and is a bold and dramatic statement that should quickly have heads turning in his direction. Cray expands to the quartet format with the addition of critically acclaimed saxophonist Noah Preminger and the addition of Mark Ferber on drums. The addition of Preminger is a stroke of musical genius for Cray and allows his compositions that added lyrical punch and soulful development to elevate Cray from a really good pianist to a really great artist. Ferber is a first call drummer that does not sit comfortably in the pocket - he owns it. Preminger may well be the finest young tenor player working as he does not operate from the speed is king mentality nor does he languish in odd meter simply because he can. Substance wins over style. While Cray scores plenty of style points here, Meridies is a formidable quartet where the cohesive interplay between all the participants simply elevates the end result and allows Cray's prolific talents to take center stage.
Opening with a cover of the iconic "Smile" there is a buoyant optimism and a shifting harmonic play that is adventurous without ever bordering on the self indulgent. The syncopated articulation by Cray is captivating. This is not Dan Cray doing McCoy Tyner or Herbie Hancock or Ahmad Jamal. "Smile" is Dan Cray doing a riff on Dan Cray, driving his own car in his own lane and placing a delightful indelible mark on a timeless classic. The Cray tune "Worst Enemy" is the first original on the release and mixes up a subtle Latin vibe with a blues infusion from Preminger that is spot on. There is a wonderful lyrical sense of purpose but a slightly dialed back zen like less is more giving this 4tet perhaps the most organic sound that is musical frames of reference have to be tossed out then perhaps Bruce Barth comes to mind. "Winter Rose" brings a slightly more contemporary feel to the decidedly old school roots of Cray. There is an infectious percussive base to "Winter Rose" a soulful anchor held steady by the first call rhythm section. The subtle nuances of bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Mark Ferber fill in and around Cray as to form one cohesive musical train of thought. "At Least" is a ballad taken to a completely different level. A touch of blues infused soul combined with a dynamic tension of shifting harmonics allows Preminger and Sommers to perform their own sonic exploratory on this Cray original.
Dan Cray has taken a huge leap of faith both personally and professionally and the payoff is huge. A quartet with a distinct voice and musical vision, one can only hope this is the start of a long and happy association with this auspicious debut recording. I tend to shun the label "jazz critic" in favor of the term "jazz advocate." Look under every rock and double check every nook and cranny. Meridies is one of the finest 4tets you will hear thanks to a first call group of musicians, solid compositions and the musical vision of Dan Cray.
A huge winner!
Tracks: Smile; Worst Enemy; Amor Fati; Serenity; East 69; Winter Rose (1728); At Least; March of The Archetypes.
Personnel: Dan Cray: piano; Noah Preminger: tenor saxophone; Clark Sommers: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.