Swiss-French trumpeter Erik Truffaz blurs boundaries with his richly textural explorations of musical atmospherics.
When Erik Truffaz played in South Africa in 2001, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival was still 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.
Little more than a decade later, he returns to play songs mainly from a new album, In Between, which returns to the moody, smoky intimacy of slower atmospheric songs.
“The new music is more … atmospheric,” Truffaz said, speaking from his home in Paris, between brief interruptions (“Désolé, it is my daughter” and “Ah, please wait, I must find the right word to say this”).
Something of an elder 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 — bizarrely Truffaz is relatively unknown further afield.
His music has often prickled purists, because he has tried deliberately to be widely accessible and has included a delightfully individualistic complement of collaborators — Indian classical musicians, electronic luminary Murcof, poet-rapper Nya, delightful vocal discovery Sophie Hunger, remixers such as DJ Goo and Alex Gopher, and musique concrète composer Pierre Henry.
Through it all, he has been accompanied by the other members of 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, time-delayed vocals and megaphone).
“I have performed with my band for 20 years and we have four hours of repertoire,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Indeed, the group tours widely and has played in Canada, India, Brazil and Russia, and he is eager to return 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 jail, he never lost the belief that human beings can be better.
“It is always possible to think that humanity is just like merde [shit], 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.”
Wrapping up the conversation, he turned the tables and asked a question: “What is the temperature in South Africa now?”
I said that our winters were mild by European standards, but his real question was lost in translation.
He rephrased it: “What is the temperature now in South Africa between black and white?”
I said the answer was complicated — most of the vestiges of apartheid government were gone, although inequalities in employment, education and housing persisted; the tensions now tended to be between those who had wealth and opportunities and those who did not; and that, although the local temperature was largely “mild”, jazz festival audiences tended to be more harmoniously mixed than the rest of society.
He was pleased by that last part, but troubled by the rest, which were in a sense global.
“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 will play at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival in Johannesburg on Friday August 24 at 8.15pm, Dinaledi Stage, Bassline, Newtown, and on Saturday August 25 at 8.15pm, Conga Stage, Newtown. Festival tickets are R350 a night from computicket.com; for details, go to joyofjazz.co.za, or phone 011 326 0141. In Cape Town, as part of the France-South Africa Season, on Sunday August 26 at 8pm, The Assembly, 61 Harrington Street, Zonnebloem, with Closet Snare and Card on Spokes. Tickets are R70; details at theassembly.co.za. At the Celebrate Durban Festival on Saturday September 1. The quartet will also continue a collaboration with Ovation dance winner Gregory Maqoma. More at eriktruffaz.com