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Album Release | 300 Years On, Tepfer Builds New Improvisations & Narratives Within Bach's Inventions

New Album Inventions / Reinventions Out March 17 on StorySound Records

Way back in 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach composed his Two Part Inventions to serve as keyboard exercises for his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Since then, Bach’s Inventions has become a rite of passage for generations of keyboard players. It’s an essential building block for millions of musicians as they refine their mastery of harmony, rhythm, and technique. It’s no exaggeration to say that much of our modern understanding of music is built upon these exercises.

300 years later, Dan Tepfer — ”a remarkable musician” (The Washington Post) with “a wide-open sensibility as tuned into Bach and Björk as to Monk and Wayne Shorter” (The New York Times) — has taken the architecture of these exercises and used it as a jumping-off point for a new project out March 17 on StorySound: Inventions / Reinventions, an album featuring performances of each of Bach’s beloved 15 Two Part Inventions interleaved in sequence with nine of Tepfer’s own free improvisations in the “missing” keys to create a new full, and fully transporting, 24-key cycle.

Today, Tepfer shares “Improvised Invention In Db Minor.” Says Tepfer: “The first thing I think of when I think about the Inventions is the idea of a conversation between the hands, an idea that turns up a lot in this improvisation. The theme that I heard when I started playing begins in my right hand, but moves quickly to my left, and gets passed continuously between the hands as the improvisation develops. The second thing I think of when I think of the Inventions is rhythm, which supports everything Bach does; yet this improvisation has a 12/8 rhythmic feel that owes more to the Jazz tradition I grew up in than to European classical music.”

Recorded in nighttime sessions that Tepfer engineered himself in an intimate salon next to the Paris apartment where he grew up, Inventions / Reinventionsis not his first foray into improvisation that builds upon Bach’s oeuvre. His 2011 recording Goldberg Variations / Variations saw Tepfer play Bach’s Baroque masterpiece in full and as improvised variations of his own creation. It was an ambitious undertaking that garnered widespread acclaim, with The New York Times calling it “riveting and inspired” and New York Magazine deeming it “elegant, thoughtful, and thrilling.”

On Inventions / Reinventions, Tepfer takes an entirely different creative route,embracing the unique narratives coursing through Bach’s work. Tepfer explains:

“With the Goldbergs, my improvisations were essentially playing over chord changes, which is what jazz musicians do every day, but with the Inventions, I’m reacting to something more abstract, to the way Bach engages with storytelling.

Bach’s Inventions are a beautiful example of the difference between surface and subsurface, in that they seem like modest pieces on the surface, but the mechanism underneath is so powerful. And that’s what this project is all about: the subsurface of Bach, the mechanisms at play deep below.”

As audacious as that all sounds, the beauty of Inventions / Reinventions is readily apparent — at no point does it feel contrived or weighed down by its lofty conceptual threads. That this project flows so freely is a testament to Tepfer’s imagination and his creative kinship with Bach. The only thing more impressive, perhaps, is Bach’s continued ability to inspire musicians 300 years on, whether they’re burgeoning students or an intrepid trailblazer like Dan Tepfer.

Says Tepfer: “It’s worth remembering that Bach was most known in his lifetime as an improviser. People traveled long distances, often by foot, to hear him extemporize at the organ or harpsichord. Despite the perfect compositions he left behind, in which it’s difficult to imagine changing a single note, improvisation was at the core of his being. And I hope, 300 years after he composed these pieces for his children and students, that Bach wouldn’t be too offended by a modern improviser making up some new musical stories in the windows he left open.”

Read Shore Fire Media press release in full here


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