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Dan Tepfer is a French-born American jazz pianist of broad sympathies and capacities, shown in his improvisational Goldberg Variations (2011), and his ongoing collaboration with saxophonist Lee Konitz. In his liner notes, Tepfer says: ‘We are all encaged ... by the limits of our bodies, of our minds, of the political system […] The best we can do is find the wiggle room.’ Eleven Cages offers that room – partly, as the pianist explains, through its ‘malleability of time’.

Tepfer confronts the tyranny of choice by restricting it. The album could be a contemporary take on Dave Brubeck’s Time Out and Time Further Out, but there’s also a pronounced love of musical games, a debt to Ligeti and Escher. It’s mostly originals, plus two free improvisations, a standard – a succinct, plangent ‘I Loves You, Porgy’ – and a contemporary pop hit, Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’, a masterly take on a banal original. In ‘Roadrunner’, a rock groove is made intriguing by addition and subtraction of beats. In the haunting ‘Minor Fall’, percussive bass and quiet drums are equal partners, while ‘547’ swings effortlessly.

The solo piano ‘Hindi Hex’ uses a tihai, a traditional polyrhythmic technique from North India in which a fragment of melody is repeated three times, displaced over shifting major and minor triads. In ‘Little Princess’, a chromatic descending bass line is repeatedly compressed and expanded.

It took me a while to appreciate this album’s rich rewards: it is cerebral in the best sense – thoughtful and reflective. Its compositions are characterful, and packed with musical ideas, intelligence and insight.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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