Erik Truffaz: Blowing hot and bold

Swiss-French trumpeter Erik Truffaz blurs boundaries with his richly textural explorations of musical atmospherics – and a healthy disregard for musical borders.

Swiss-French trumpeter Erik Truffaz

This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Mail & Guardian of 2012/08/24

When Erik Truffaz played South Africa in 2001, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival was still being birthed from the North Sea Jazz Festival: Cape Town. That schizophrenic title formed the perfect backdrop for the Swiss-born French-national to unleash a deftly navigated mix of warm timbre trumpet, break-beat inspired drums, effects pedals – and haunting vocals courtesy of Tunisian vocalist Mounir Troudi. Just over a decade later, he returns to play a set of songs mainly from a new album, “In Between”, that pushes a new boundary: returning to the moody, smoky intimacy of slower atmospheric songs.
“The new music is more… atmospheric,” says Truffaz from his home in Paris, in between brief interruptions (“Désóle, it is my daughter” and “Ah, please wait, I must find the right word to say this”). Something of an elder statesman in France – he has recorded a dozen albums on the renowned Blue Note label, and is regarded by many as a worthy successor to the innovations of Miles Davis – Truffaz is bizarrely unknown further afield. This is all the more strange when his music has often prickled purists by deliberately trying to be widely accessible, even as he pursues a delightfully individualistic complement of collaborators – from Indian classical musicians to electronic luminary Murcof; from poet/rapper Nya to delightful vocal discovery Sophie Hunger; remixers like DJ Goo, Alex Gopher and musique concrete composer Pierre Henry. Through it all, he’s been accompanied by his quartet, Benoît Corboz (piano, keyboard and, on “In Between”, Hammond organ), Marcello Giuliani (bass) and Marc Erbetta (drums and, especially in the “Mantis” era, and impressively ambidextrous use of time-delayed vocals and megaphone).
“I have performed with my band for twenty years and we have four hours of repertoire,” he says, matter-of-factly. Indeed, the group tours incessantly, playing as far afield as Canada, India, Brazil and Russia. “I never prepare what the set will be – we feel how it works and I choose the tune. For the atmospheric music, we generally find a good base, and then the melody comes after that. The more you are older, the more you have to invite the melodies to find a new one. Sometimes, when we are recording, I find a good melody, and then I discover that I did it five years ago. I grew up in France and the music we heard on the radio was jazz and then there was the French pop of the ’60s. That music was small with its rhythm, but the melody was strong. It was this, and I used to perform with my father in his band – this helped me find the melody.”
He is eager to be returning to South Africa. “One of my preferred books of last year was the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, because the man was incredible. It is a common thing to praise him for how strong he was, but I believe this very much.Even through all the time that he was in gaol – he never lost the belief that human beings can be better. It is always possible to think that humanity is just like merde, but he always saw that it is more, and that we can be more. The story is even more incredible because, just as he was leaving 20 years in the cell, his wife made some strange decisions and even there, Mr Mandela tried to show the positive things.”
Asking Truffaz for closing comments, he turns the tables, and asks a question there: “What is the temperature in South Africa now?” I answer that our winters are mild by European standards, but his real question has been lost in translation. He rephrases: “What is the temperature now in South Africa between black and white?” I say it’s a complicated answer but that most vestiges of the apartheid government is gone, although inequalities in unemployment, education and housing persist; that tensions now tend to be between those who have wealth and opportunities, and those who do not; and that, while the local temperature is largely “mild”, jazz festival audiences here tend to be more harmoniously mixed than the rest of society.
He’s pleased by that last part, but troubled in a global sense by the rest.”In Europe, in some parts of every town, there are people who do not have a job; and there are people who do not get a good education. This quartet does not play jazz – we play popular instrumental music but we also try to collaborate with many, many kinds of people, and we do not stay inside the borders. Maybe this is a political message; maybe this is saying that we must talk together so that we can be better, and so that we can live together.”
* The Erik Truffaz Quartet plays the Standard Bank “Joy Of Jazz” festival on Friday 24 (Dinaledi Stage, Bassline, Newtown, 8.15pm) and Saturday 25 August (Conga Stage, Newtown, 8.15pm) Festival tickets R350 per night from; details or  011-3260141. On Sunday 26 August, he plays in Cape Town at The Assembly with Closet Snare and Card On Spokes (61 Harrington Street, Zonnebloem, 8pm, R70; details as part of the France-South Africa Season and, on Saturday 1 September, he plays the Celebrate Durban Festival. While in South Africa, the quartet will also continue a collaboration with “Ovation” dance winner
Gregory Maqoma. More on ErikTruffaz.comThis article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Mail & Gaurdian of 2012/08/24