Trumpet player, composer
Swiss-born trumpet player Erik Truffaz has gained prominence in the international jazz community for wedding the post-beebop and early fusion styles of trumpet legend Miles Davis with more contemporary forms of music such as electronica, acid rock, and hip-hop. The result is a musical synthesis that is often nostalgic yet simultaneously fresh, sometimes veering into trance music and other times hitting a polyrhythmic dance vibe inspiring listeners to hit the dance floor.
While comparisons to Davis's groundbreaking era have served as touchstones for critics, the comparisons are a blessing and a curse for any contemporary trumpet player. As a blessing, it's flattering for a musician to be favorably compared with one of the best-known and most-admired practitioners of any musical instrument. Conversely, comparisons can lead to an assessment of the contemporary musician as merely a copycat with no new musical ideas of his or her own. Rolling Stone critic David Fricke bridged such a critical paradox when he wrote about Truffaz's 2003 release, The Walk of the Giant Turtle: "Truffaz's laconic horn is the clear blue eye of a thrilling hurricane; this is an electric jazz that freshens the large-ensemble cross-currents of early 1970s Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock with garage-rock-like force." Regarding an earlier work, Revisite, Fricke noted that Truffaz's music "is itself a whirl of changes, a perpetual shuffle of genres: the future noir of electric Miles Davis; the pimp roll of Seventies funk; the whisper and cadence of trip-hop. Truffaz plays less like Miles than a jazz-rock Eno, making rapturous atmospheres from a minimum of notes."
Truffaz was exposed to music as a child by his father, who played saxophone in a dance band. The young trumpet player made his debut with his father's musical group when he was ten years old. When he was 16, he heard Miles Davis's classic album from 1959, Kind of Blue, which featured Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and John Coltrane on, respectively, alto and tenor saxophone, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. This landmark album had a tremendous influence on Truffaz, and he set out to emulate the jazz giant by learning more about his craft. He enrolled in Switzerland's Geneva Conservatoire, where he studied musical theory, history, and composition, and added works by such composers as Mozart and Verdi to his repertoire. After leaving the Conservatoire, Truffaz offered his trumpet-playing services to the Orchestre de Suisse Romande. He played in a variety of cover bands before he formed the group Orange. Orange served two primary functions in Truffaz's musical development. First, the group became a vehicle for performing the artist's own compositions. Second, Orange marked the first musical collaboration between Truffaz and drummer Marc Erbetta, who continued to play with the trumpet player when he embarked on a solo career.
The 1990s were a decade of intense musical activity for Truffaz. He recorded the album Nina Valeria in 1991 under the group he named after himself. That same year he received the Prix Special, a prestigious jazz award given by France's Jury de Concours National de la Defense. He also made his first appearance at the famed Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1991. In 1994 he embarked on a two-year international tour that included performances in Latin America, Asia, and Europe, funded by Switzerland's Pro Helvetia Foundation. Truffaz's musical activities of the decade culminated in the release of three albums on the EMI France label: Out of a Dream (1997), The Dawn (1998), and Bending New Corners (1999).
In 2000 Truffaz signed a contract with the Blue Note jazz label. Blue Note, like EMI, was owned by Capitol Records. His new label immediately released The Mask, a compilation of his first three EMI France recordings. The material on The Mask was subsequently remixed by such acts as Pierre Audetat and Christophe Calpini from Mobile in Motion, Alex Gopher, Good, Bugge Wesseltoft, and Pierre Henry, for the 2001 release Revisite. Mobile in Motion and Good had previously performed with Truffaz in live performances in London; Gopher had mastered two previous albums for Truffaz; Bugge Wesseltoft had collaborated on live Truffaz performances; and Henry had worked extensively with drummer Erbetta. According to Truffaz in the liner notes to Revisite, Henry "is the only one of our guests not to use samplers and the suite he provides ["More"] proves that he remains the uncontested master of electroacoustic." In a rave review of the album, Fricke wrote: "You need The Mask to hear this magic in its magnetic, native state. But the remixes on Revisite affirm the depth and durability of Truffaz's fusion: a jazz with brawn, soul and plenty of wide open space."
For his next release of original material, Mantis, Truffaz changed direction. According to the liner notes written by poet Joel Bastard, "Mantis is the name of a generous man living in New York City whose name has become the title of a record quite as generous in its conception, thanks to the affection Erik Truffaz holds for him." For the album, Truffaz enlisted guitarist Manu Codjia, bass player Michel Benita, and drummer Philippe Garcia. Unofficially calling themselves the Erik Truffaz "Ladyland" quartet, the group drafted oud player Anouar Brahem for a revisited version of Truffaz's early 1990s composition "Nina Valeria." They also enlisted Tunisian Mounir Troudi for a compositional collaboration with Truffaz titled "Magrouni." Guardian critic John L. Walters believed the recording "has a digital aesthetic, using a language that has been developed as much in the studio as on stage. But it is an improvising quartet of trumpet, guitar, double bass, and drums—you know they could get up and play anywhere, without any high-tech prosthetics, and this is deeply satisfying to the jazz believer."
Truffaz's 2003 release The Walk of the Giant Turtle reassembled Muller and Giuliani, and brought drummer Erbetta back into the fold. According to Fricke, the recording was a jazz landmark. "Patrick Muller attacks his Fender Rhodes piano with the fuzzed-tremolo heat of vintage Joe Zawinul and Soft Machine's Mike Ratledge, while bassist Marcello Giuliani and drummer Marc Erbetta hammer the beat in 'Next Door,' under Truffaz's seesaw riff, like a pair of Chemical Brothers." The album rocks harder than previous efforts by the quartet, which prompted Truffaz to admit that British rock band Led Zeppelin had been a major influence on his music, prior to his infatuation with the music of Miles Davis.
For the Record …
Born in 1960; son of a saxophonist father who played in a dance band. Education: Studied at Geneva Conservatoire.
Studied at Geneva Conservatoire, 1980s; formed group Orange, 1990; awarded Prix Special by France's Jury du Concours National de la Defense, 1991; signed with EMI France, 1996; released American compilation of first three European albums as The Mask, Blue Note, 2000; released remix Revisite, Blue Note, 2001; released Mantis, Blue Note, 2002; released The Walk of the Giant Turtle, EMI, 2003.
Awards: Prix Special, from France's Jury du Concours National de la Defense, 1991.
Addresses: Management—Patrick David, 9b, rue Sebeillon, ch-1004 Lausanne, Switzerland, phone: 41-21-620-03-50, fax: 41-21-620-03-51. Record company—Blue Note, 1750 North Vine St., Los Angeles, CA 90028, website: http://www.bluenote.com. Website—Erik Truffaz Official Website: http://www.eriktruffaz.com.
Out of a Dream, EMI France, 1997.
The Dawn, EMI France, 1998.
Bending New Corners, EMI France, 1999; reissued, 2003.
The Mask, Blue Note, 2000.
Revisite, Blue Note, 2001.
Mantis, Blue Note, 2002.
The Walk of the Giant Turtle, EMI, 2003.
Saloua, Blue Note, 2005.
Guardian (London, England), April 24, 2001; December 21, 2001.
Rolling Stone, August 30, 2001; July 10, 2003.
Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), July 31, 2000.
Blue Note Website, http://www.bluenote.com (February 25, 2005).
"Erik Truffaz," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (February 25, 2005).
Erik Truffaz Official Website, http://www.eriktruffaz.com (February 25, 2005).
Additional information was obtained from the liner notes to Mantis and Revisite, for Blue Note Records.