Erik Truffaz: French jazz legend for Joy of Jazz and Cape Town

French trumpet legend Erik Truffaz has danced his notes across multiple genres from jazz to hip hop and ‘world music’. He brings his quartet to Cape Town for a single concert as part of the ongoing France-South Africa Season.

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 08/19
French trumpet legend Erik Truffaz

French trumpet legend Erik Truffaz

Blue Note recording artist Erik Truffaz last played Cape Town a decade ago, bringing the electronica-meets-Arabica-meets-smooth-jazz sounds of his album “Mantis” (2001) to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (back when it was still the North Sea Jazz Festival, Cape Town). Sometimes described as “post-bop”, critics have compared Truffaz favourably to Miles Davis, especially since Truffaz embraces energetically the pursuit of a wide range of musical expressions. His current project with his long standing quartet – keyboardist Benoît Corboz, bassist Marcello Giuliani and drummer Marc Erbetta, with Truffaz playing trumpet and effects – is a slow, moody and intimate affair. After silver-selling albums like “Bending New Corners” (1999), eclectic projects like a collaboration with electronica luminary Murcof, “Mexico” (2008) and one of the most acclaimed remix albums of acoustic tunes, “Revisité” (2001), Truffaz’s new music charts “a celebration of slow tempos, deliberate silence, elastic space and intimacy” – and an inspired cover of a lesser-known Bob Dylan tune, “Dirge” (“In Between”, 2010).

“The music now is different from ‘Mantis’,” says Truffaz by telephone from his home in France. “Of course, it must be, since the time has changed, and the music we make has changed, even if this quartet is the same since the dawn until ‘In Between’. Now we have Hammond organ as well as keyboard, and the bass is electric. The music in the time of ‘Mantis’ was with a Tunisian singer, a man; but we recorded ‘In Between’ with a female singer, Sophie Hunger (Superterz, Fisher, TEDglobal). It is maybe more jazz-rock, maybe more in tune with Motown groove this time.”
Naturally, this answer demands that clumsy obligatory “but is it jazz” question – a question best answered with Gallic disdain. “No,” says Truffaz cautiously. “Not jazz. We play a kind of pop instrumental with solos. We don’t play jazz standards, but we are inspired by the funky grooves and the drum and the bass of it. Now, we are really inspired by atmospheric music. A concert is like a book or a movie – there has to be intention. Sometimes we play a really hard tune, then a really groovy tune and then we will improvise something with a slow mood – we are always between the groove and the atmospherics. We love to develop contrast through the concert, and I love to play a lot of melodies.”
Truffaz and his quartet come to Cape Town, courtesy of ProHelvetia and the France-South Africa season, directly from shows at Johannesburg’s “Joy of Jazz” festival. There, and for his previous Cape Town appearance, he plays a festival atmosphere, while this Cape Town show is a smaller, club event. How does the quartet adapt to these conditions, and to different audiences?
“After years and years, and playing so much and so many conditions, it is not difficult for us to adapt,” says Truffaz. “We are four wheels, moving together. Generally, I compose the melodies and I take this to the band but, from there, it is really a community at work. Everyone gives his touch. We have a new album that we are releasing in October and, for this, we composed all the songs in studio, just from improvising. Generally, we were able to track one tune per day – this is all because we know each other so well. We also have so much repertoire together, after all these years that I can lead this on stage. That is my job – after that, the work is mainly to be a good diplomat! That is the only way to stay in a band together for a long time: to be democratic and be a diplomat.”
Truffaz is making light of a subject, but notions of democracy, and being a diplomat are close to his heart. After the paid concerts are complete, he and the quartet will remain in South Africa for a week to collaborate with dancer Gregory Maqoma, the National Arts Festival “Ovation” winner and Vuyani Dance Theatre lead.
“We have a creation with Gregory that we are working on, and we will perform it here and, next year, also in France and Europe,” says Truffaz. “For us, this is really important: not just to play in a country, but to meet people. When we can meet musicians or dancers in the countries where we get to perform, we can be more in touch with the people of that country. My music is not pure jazz and I have no borders with it. That is like a kind of political message – that all every person can live together with no problems if they perform the creations that they must do, and try to understand and work with the creations that others are making.”
As to being a below-the-radar diplomat, the Swiss-born Frenchman is as direct. “If I can give a good image of my country with my attitude when I am travelling, then this is good. It is better to do this, than to be like the impression that we have often-times made. France has made some mistakes with Africa over the years, and I am happy to be an ambassador who is trying to see the people, and meet the people, of the country for who they really are. One of my favourite books I read this last year was the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. He experienced so many bad things, but he never lost his charisma and he always carried the message that humans can do better, and be better, than we think we can. I think we all have to think like this and, if we want to make a better world, we have to remember that it is always possible to think in opposite ways. It is easy to think that human beings are terrible – but we must be optimistic and be positive about how we can change things.”
Erik Truffaz play a single Cape Town concert with his quartet, courtesy Pro Helvetia. They are supported by Closet Snare (stars of the recent City Hall Sessions and featuring Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Kesivan Naidoo (drums), as well as Mark Buchanan (guitar), Lee Thomson (trumpet), Shane Cooper (drums), Sean Ou Tim (samples) and VJ Grrrl doing synchronised visuals) and electronic project Card On Spokes on Sunday 26 August (The Assembly, 61 Harrington Street, Zonnebloem, 8pm, R70) as part of the France-South Africa Season.This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 08/19