Dan Tepfer, Ben Wendel jazz up the Mansion at Strathmore

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

Driving from San Francisco to their next gig in Fresno, Calif., Dan Tepfer and Ben Wendel talk readily about the tour to promote their latest release, "Small Constructions," and their appearance Sunday at the Mansion at Strathmore.

"I will be playing saxophone, bassoon and the melodica, and Dan will be playing primarily piano," Wendel said. "And then for fun and something unique, I jump on the piano and Dan plays sax."

Like true musical collaborators, each pushes the other to new musical heights.

"The last track on our record is called 'Oblique Strategy,' and on it, we switch instruments," said Tepfer, a classically trained pianist whose acclaimed recent album, "Goldberg Variations/Variations," features his flawless performance of Bach's masterpiece -- as well as daring improvisation on the same work to "build a bridge across centuries and genres," one critic raved.

Onstage
Dan Tepfer and Ben Wendel
» Where: The Mansion at Strathmore, 301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
» When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
» Info: $20; 301-581-5100; strathmore.org

Switching instruments, the two believe, draws something out in their musicality. There is the rush of playing instruments they are not completely comfortable with and being able to pull it off. The two are risk takers who refuse to set limits for themselves.

"I do hate to be boxed in," continued Tepfer, who has made a name for himself as a pianist and composer of wide-ranging individuality. "I think jazz offers a unique opportunity to explore the idea of freedom. ... You can play with [the music] in a way that reflects how you feel at the moment you are improvising."

Not every musician can get away with that, however. But in "Small Constructions," the two manage with ease multiple styles of music that run the gamut from fresh versions of Thelonius Monk tunes to the masterfully improvisational treatment of works by Handel and Bach. The resulting pieces fly harmoniously in the face of former musical restraints.

"We both feel that we're living in a very exciting time for jazz. The boundaries that surrounded our style for a while are falling down, and we feel very free to incorporate all kinds of different [conventions]," Tepfer said. "We think it's a great time to be making music."

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