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Dan Cray Trio: Save Us!

Dan Cray has been compared to Ahmad Jamal. Cray does not have Jamal’s touch or sense of musical space, but he shares Jamal’s deep concern with group form. What is most interesting about Cray is not his considerable chops–there are piano chops around to burn these days–but his sophistication as a conceptualist. Like Jamal, he thinks about the piano trio orchestrally. Each of the 10 tracks on Save Us! is a complete design, and improvisation flows directly from the plan.

Most often that plan is a bold, creative assault on known material that transforms every structural element and leaves just enough of the song’s skeleton in sight for recognition. Cray is also interested in the organic relationship between jazz past and jazz present. He strongly represents the latter, but chooses material with a rich history. His abstractions of “Without a Song” and “Just One of Those Things” and “When You Wish Upon a Star” are fearlessly liberated yet reveal their own inner logic.

The performance that permanently makes the case for Dan Cray is “If You Could See Me Now.” This Tadd Dameron song needs no improvement, but Cray’s painfully slow search through its possible connotations, returning to its ascending melodic affirmation over and over, never quite separating from it, understanding it anew, is a very good reason to buy this album.

Originally Published