CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Sam Leak/ Dan Tepfer – Adrift

Sam Leak/ Dan Tepfer – Adrift
(Jellymould JM-JJ032. CD review by Mike Collins)

Two-piano sets have a rich, if not voluminous tradition in jazz. Dave Brubeck wrote a suite for two pianos in the 60’s; Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock toured and recorded in the 70s. More recently Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays set the bar high with their release. For the last ten years, Pizza Express have hosted the Steinway Two Piano Festival, and 2014’s edition brought Sam Leak and Dan Tepfer together.

They are two of a younger generation of prodigiously creative and fluent pianists, resident respectively on either side of the Atlantic in London and New York. By their account, Sam gave Dan just a couple of weeks warning of the suite he’d written for the occasion. The electricity they discovered in the performance however, led to this session. Recorded in New York Adrift was released on Jellymould at the end of 2018.

Clocking in at just half-an-hour, the eight Sam Leak compositions, numbered I  to VIII, cover a broad sweep stylistically, but most striking for this listener was the balance the pair achieved, blending the sound of their two pianos and ebb and flow of their lyricism and groove. Piece I  has the two pianos exchanging crystalline chords, bubbling phrases and chiming motifs; II grooves steadily under a Wheeler-esque arcing melody; III has them chasing each other with scampering lines; IV sounds for a moment like it might have been a lost French impressionist piece; V dances away with a rolling 12/8 gait, both pianist taking turns to spin out long melodic lines and explosive linear bursts of lyricism.

Sam Leak’s writing provides plenty for them to get their teeth into, but more importantly, gives them space to reflect and response. Two pianos have the potential to fill every chink of space, but there is never a moment when that seems remotely likely. This is beautifully judged performance and an advert for the musicianship of both players.

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