I always thought I had a pretty good grasp of mathematics. It was just the advanced calculus, algebra and statistics that seemed to throw me. This 2005 release by the Dan Cray Trio successfully dispels that notion. In this case, 1 + 1 +1 equals considerably more than 3. This trio has obviously logged a whole lot of time together. On their third release it shows magnificently. This is a super-tight band – playing at a level far above a studio gathering of three ordinary musicians. And they’ve chosen an excellent program to display their talents. As usual with current jazz releases, production values are top-drawer. This genre simply stomps all over the others when it comes to the ability to capture the full splendor of the performance – whether in the studio or live. As many in the high end audio camp realize, good jazz discs are the best way to fully hear and appreciate one’s playback system.
These guys should probably venture outside of their hometown of Chicago. For example, were they to play the Village Vanguard or Birdland, the trio would most assuredly vastly increase their recognition. But they appear to pretty much prefer to stay home. Actually, this is in keeping with the anti-commercial theme of this release, which basically blames our culture for reducing jazz to “artistic irrelevance through a nearsighted veneration of the NEW is too much for me”. (awkward, but from the booklet notes). I suspect here that Mr. Cray is addressing both the crass Muzak jazz-lite AND the heavy recent focus on the Blue Note and Prestige reissues with “improved 24-bit sound” etc. And he’s right – jazz enthusiasts really should do a better job of balancing the new with the “old but with better sonics” material.
Pianist Cray’s pedigree includes being a finalist in two major piano competitions prior to his trio discs released in 2001 and 2003. Bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte are relative unknowns, but are super solid contributors. Particularly impressive is the drummer’s balance between the differing textures of brushes – delicate rim shots and full blown sticks – quite often within the same tune. This is one of the keys to this release. The trio makes outstanding use of tempo changes, differing colorations and changing moods within the same number. Cray utilizes well his sole instrument solo space within the arrangements before being rejoined by the rhythm section. These guys play with the degree of telepathy and sympathy that can only come with long term interaction. They select a song, dissect it and recreate it as a group effort. Their interpretation of “When You Wish Upon A Star”, Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things”, Tad Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” and Monk’s “Trinkle Trinkle” are wonderfully stated. The other standards are Wayne Shorter’s “Night Dreamer”, Horace Silver’s “Summer In Central Park” and “Without A Song”. Supplement this with a reworking of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” along with two originals and you have almost 70 minutes of first class playing on the disc.
In summary: A very much under-recognized pianist with extremely solid drum and bass accompaniment. This generally would result in 3 or 3 1/2 stars. But when you add in a superb engineering job, the level of group empathy shown and the tremendous program selected, you come up with the 4 stars I’m awarding it. Great stuff!
– Birney K. Brown