[live review] Dan Tepfer Trio @ the Regattabar

After three songs at the Regattabar with his trio on March 16, Dan Tepfer introduced the next number as “the only tune that really swings on the CD.” He sort of wasn’t kidding. Tepfer favors all kinds of odd and mixed meters, and that tune, an original called “Diverge” (from Five Pedals Deep, on Sunnyside), was the only one in which drummer Colin Stranahan played a standard-swing dotted rhythm on his ride cymbal. But the music Tepfer, Stranahan, and bassist Joe Martin played had its own kind of swing. There was rhythmic tension, propulsion — groove and heat — in every tune. Even the slowest.

That would have been Jacque Brel’s “Le Plat Pays,” with its slow, press-roll martial beat and stately fours in the bass. But in the meantime, Tepfer played with harmony, his left hand holding steady on those fours while the right wandered through jagged phrases. Tepfer’s music is demanding but also accessible — he always gives you something to hang your ear on. So his “Back Attya” is an inversion of the standard “All the Things You Are” (i.e., “backwards”) — guaranteed to bring the players somewhere new while giving the audience a tune they think they know. Everything the trio did tantalized with that mix of familiarity and strangeness. So “I Was Wonderin’ ” was mostly 6/8, but with passages of 5/4 thrown in, a jaunty theme alternating with a dark one, an overall sense of groove and pattern, but with slipped cogs in the mesh of rhythms.

This was also one of the rare trio performances that was a real trio performance: the oddities of rhythm gave each player a very specific role. If you separated Tepfer’s playing out of the mix, it might not have sounded like much. But there he was: playing different rhythms in each hand, running up and down the keyboard in his own personal language of harmony and odd-lengthed phrases. This was remarkably self-contained music. The drive and volume of the last tune — “Peal, Repeal” — came close to rock. But, like all the other music they played, it was really its own thing. And beautiful for it.

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