Merides, pronounced me-ri-dee-ayze, is Latin for midday. An apt title for the 35 year old jazz pianist, Dan Cray. William Butler Yeats in Vision talks about 35 being “the apex of individualism”, and that is also applicable for Cray on his fifth album where he makes many breaks with personal tradition. Musically, his previous recordings have been in the piano trio format of piano/bass/drums. Meridies is his first time recording with a horn. The talented Noah Priminger joins on tenor sax and almost steals the show in some tasty places.
Beyond that oh so important musical ‘apex of individualism’ Cray has relocated from Chicago to New York City. Now Chicago may be known for turning out tough tenors, but it has produced its share of fine pianists, too. Andrew Hill, Herbie Hancock, Sun Ra, and adopted son, Ahmad Jamal. Speaking of Jamal, he was a huge influence on Cray.
A third ‘apex of individualism’, and one that I think he can ride for awhile, is that his first four albums were mostly covers, standards, and more than anything, a learning/growing process. Meridies presents six Cray compositions and only two standards.
His sound is very bop savvy, as you’d expect from a student of Mike Kocour who worked with James Moody and Benny Golson and was Cray’s teacher at Northwestern. The sound and feel is sophistication, but with brash interpretations on the classics. Witness the opening track, Charles Chaplin’s little diddy, “Smile”. It’s usually a ballad, but not here. Cray marshals the trio to mount an assault with a darkness and power of a rumbling bass line and strange offbeat time signatures. Smile also serves as a bit of musical metaphor, as if Cray is leaving the Chicago Trio sound behind, and now graduating to playing with horns.
Indeed, the only other cover tune on the album is sax legend Joe Henderson’s “Serenity”. Cray admits that Henderson is his favorite sax man. On the six originals, Cray covers all bets sonically. From the ballad, “Amor Fati” mid-tempo lyrical presentations such as “Winter Rose” and four on the floor – and cleverly titled – “March Of The Archetypes”. He does it all, from Latin grooves to natty blues. he is joined by bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Mark Ferber as well as Preminger.
The CD was released on March 20 and the New York CD release show will take place on Thursday 4/19 at the Kitano (Park Avenue at 38th Street, Manhattan). He'll be performing with tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, bassist John Tate, and drummer Matt Wilson. Cray returns to Chicago for a two-night engagement at Andy's (with Preminger, Clark Sommers, and drummer TBA) 6/15-16.
Meridies should be just a preview of good things to come as Cray stretches out and expands his repertoire as a composer as well as exploring beyond the trio format.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved