In his forthcoming trio release, Five Pedals Deep, wildly inventive pianist Dan Tepfer plumbs the depths of conventional harmony, engaging pop modalities, minimalism, and jazz tradition with the audacity and irreverence of a deep-sea explorer. The 28-year-old, Brooklyn-based pianist has forged a richly layered collection of lyrical, immediately accessible compositions that upon repeated listenings reveal a nuanced scaffolding of atmospheric soundscapes beneath the surface.
Beyond the eclectic influence of such vanguard groups as indie rockers Dirty Projectors and electronica maven Aphex Twin, Tepfer drew inspiration for the album from Thelonious Monk. "When you listen to Monk's music, you can put it on for anybody, it doesn't matter if they're into jazz, and they love it," says Tepfer. "The reason for that is that it's got really strong melodies, there's a real coherence to the sound, it grooves, and there's a strong feeling of fun that comes through in the music. I think in many ways I'm trying to do a contemporary version of that."
Tepfer features the deft interplay of two eminent musical contemporaries, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Ted Poor, a departure from his longtime collaboration with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Richie Barshay, his touring trio for the past six years.
The "sound of surprise" is evident throughout, the players never relying on reflexive facility as they navigate the varied terrains of Tepfer's original compositions, mostly written over the past two years. This ranges from the minimalist ostinato of "All I Heard Was Nothing," to the dense drum 'n bass-inspired rhythms of "Peal, Repeal," to the languorously dissonant beauty of "The Distance," with four minute-long interludes serving as connective tissue. Tepfer's visceral tie to the music cuts through in the wistfully nostalgic "Le Plat Pays," Belgian troubadour Jacques Brel's stirring homage to his homeland.
In his solo rendition of "Body and Soul," Tepfer includes a subtle nod to mentor and collaborator Lee Konitz, conspicuous by his absence, although Konitz's influence is deeply felt. "Nobody plays 'Body and Soul' like Lee does," Tepfer says. In 2009, he released a duo album with Konitz called Duos with Lee. "One thing that's really come up for me in the last four years now, playing with Lee pretty regularly, is the integrity of melody. I feel sinful if a phrase doesn't get resolved."
A young post-bop pianist of exceptional poise, Dan Tepfer may have his breakthrough in Five Pedals Deep --New York Times (fall preview 2010)
Five Pedals Deep - Dan Tepfer Trio (Sunnyside Records)
Young Mr. Tepfer's playing is quite impressive, especially his work with Lee Konitz and on the Rob Garcia 4's Perennial; (issued late last year on BJU Records.) He does not try and blow you away with technique; melody is his forte. On initial listening to this new release (his first with the rhythm section of drummer Ted Poor and bassist Thomas Morgan), the music sounded highly influenced by the Brad Mehldau and Radiohead but, as the music sunk in, I began to hear so much more. The interaction of the trio, the way Morgan holds the bottom allowing Poor to drive the faster pieces, the manner in which Tepfer inhabits the music, seemingly playing from the inside out. The fire of Peal, Repeal comes not only from the bustling rhythm section but also from the way the pianist builds the melody from the repetitive figures in his left hand. The drone in the piano figure on All I Heard Was Nothing tugs at the listener, the long right-hand runs over Poor's rampaging drums makes you listen - you want to follow this journey. The ballads are equally affecting; the Satie-like melody line on The Distance, a piece that slows down as the rhythm gets jagged for a short but melodically generous bass solo, opens like a flower. The program also features 5 solo piano pieces. The brief Interludes range from meditations to angular explorations - all were recorded at home and were conceived as exercises. Body and Soul closes the program and Tepfer digs right in; the piece seems to become more contemplative as it moves forward, softening slowly on the way to the final chords.
Five Pedals Deep is thoughtful, playful, at times dark but never dull. This is music to play over and over, allowing the notes to gently rain down upon you. --Step Tempest