Dan Tepfer to perform with ICE at Bard

Dan Tepfer (photo by Jeremy Sailing)

Acoustic Informatics concert to explore the intersection of live musical improvisation and computer-driven algorithms at Bard

Because he wears so many figurative hats and jackets, I find myself writing happily about this Dan Tepfer character every few months. While the name has been on the serious music map for a while, he’s just rolling into his mid-30s now and peaking as an artist: multiply peaking as an internationally decorated, progressive jazz pianist and leader; a concert music crossover figure as both performer and composer; and a dogma-free, willing collaborator and avant-gardist who has fashioned his path jamming with Lee Konitz as with Bach and with Brooklyn’s finest algorithmic cell phone apps. He is also, one can credibly argue, an astrophysicist.

And because he moves through all these different chambers with no apparent pretense, no stilt and no real change of posture, diction or attire, Tepfer gracefully embodies and signifies the new, stable jazz identity. In both its preservationist and progressive modes, jazz is conservatory art now, high-bar; grant- and fellowship-driven; grueling in its disciplines, apprenticeships and imprimaturs; and good for you whether you like it or not. If your first reaction is, “No way, bro. Jazz transgresses, jazz flouts convention, jazz shocks and jazz rocks,” the point that you are missing is just off the periphery on your right: Classical music does too, bro.

The serious-music world, especially in the Boroughs, welcomes organic talents from rock as well, treating Sufjan Stevens, Dave Longstreth, Dan Deacon and the Dessner brothers, among many others, as composers worthy of BAM time. But let’s call it what it is: The turf that classical freely shares with indie rock is almost exclusively that narrow scrap of the tradition called Minimalism. To rock ears, Minimalism is a kind of cerebral that makes sense, and that makes for excellent trances as well.

It might be an exaggeration to call Minimalism a populist movement, but among its many radical agencies, it certainly was an olive branch extended toward the popular audience that serious music squandered with the exceeding difficulty of the early 20th century. But from the late ’50s through the ’70s, when Reich, Riley, Glass, John Cage, LaMonte Young and the rest were saying some very important things about rhythm and space using elemental harmony, think about where jazz was: quite busy squandering its popular audience with the exceeding difficulty of bop ’n’ beyond.

For Dan Tepfer – with a set of ears that may best be described as astrophysical – the entire book is open, all the traditions in play. When Tepfer does things that look outrageous on paper – like alternating fully credible, concert-grade performances of each of Bach’s 30 Goldberg Variations with Modernist improvisations on its themes (not even jazz, really; just free flights of 21st-century music) – what is really shocking about it is how fluid, natural and unself-conscious it is as it goes down. There is little to no revolutionary rhetoric required to justify any crazy thing that Tepfer does. He is a true musical spaceman. Anyone can say, “It’s all music of this galaxy; it’s all one;” only a tiny handful can actually prove it in practice.

Tepfer’s performance at the LUMA Theater at Bard on Friday, January 29 (the next in Bard’s fruitful series of co-productions with the formidable jazz incubator known as the Catskill Jazz Factory) finds the pianist collaborating with a detachment of players from the important International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), a serious music collective whose programming almost always involves a conceptual challenge and the pushing of envelopes. This program is titled Acoustic Informatics. Tepfer will use a Yamaha Disklavier digital piano (a real acoustic piano with all kinds of state-of-the-art digital outfitting) in combination with iPhones and iPads in an evening that explores the intersection of live musical improvisation and computer-driven algorithms. If it sounds high on concept but maybe a little stingy on musical inspiration, fear not; it’s Dan Tepfer.

Dan Tepfer and ICE musicians Joshua Rubin on clarinet, Rebekah Heller on bassoon, Alice Teyssier on flute and Ryan Muncy on saxophone, perform  Acoustic Informatics at the LUMA Theater at Bard College on Friday, January 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $25. For tickets and more information, call (845) 758-7900 or visit https://fishercenter.bard.edu/calendar. For more on Dan Tepfer, visit www.dantepfer.com. For more on ICE, visit https://iceorg.org.


Acoustic Informatics, Dan Tepfer/International Contemporary Ensemble, Friday, January 29, 8 p.m., $25, LUMA Theater, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900,  https://fishercenter.bard.edu.

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