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Mantis by Eric Truffaz

It would be easy to caricaturize Erik Truffaz as another branch of the tree of Miles Davis. Truffaz’ involvement with silence as a component of sound, his experimentation with electronics and his use of modes to create texture more than melody recall Davis’ ground-breaking work. For sure, Davis was a primary influence, Kind Of Blue forming the basis for Truffaz’ studies thereafter. But Truffaz has his own ideas too, confining them to his dedicated group, The Ladyland Quartet.

On the one hand, Truffaz may sketch out a suggestive theme, like the short descending notes on the title track. Even as Truffaz continues to repeat the theme with unembellished quarter notes, guitarist Manu Codjia fills in the outline with distorted changes in the background. And on the other hand, Truffaz may give a sense of the sounds of the city, as on drummer Phillipe Garcia’s "Parlophone," Garcia’s megaphoned chatter and hissing and clopping drumwork simulating urban motion with murmured, hip-hoppish and echoing interaction.

On this, Truffaz’ third Blue Note CD distributed in the United States, he has chosen to feature his own compositions to present his aesthetic of melodic and harmonic subtlety overlaying rhythmic intensity. The contrast between the sometimes quiet, confident implications of song and the always-driving work of Garcia creates a complementary tension during which broad spacing, seemingly in relaxation, is filled with rhythmic propulsion. One can imagine Garcia working up a sweat on "The Point" as he absorbs and holds together the separate elements. Working with bassist Michel Benita, himself a supremely accomplished musician as well, Garcia adds sometimes a rock flavor to the proceedings. On "La Mémoire du Silence," Benita makes clear his ability to craft and drive melody, later taken up by Truffaz, when the silence he explores is that surrounding his solo as Codjia quietly accompanies with flowing fretwork.

Truffaz plays several of the tracks as a duo, particularly with Codjia on "Yasmina," his guitar work attaining an acoustical richness of dramatic dynamic swell and contraction as metrical certainty is sacrificed for textural complexity. On "Nina Valeria," oud player Anouar Brahem takes on the role of stringed equal of Truffaz’, one responding to the lines of the other in repetition and reflection.

Truffaz’ interests in Middle Eastern scales and chanting create the basis for "Magrouni," which he wrote with Tunisian vocalist Mounir Troudi. With swirl and what would be a backbeat if the tune weren’t written in unconventional meter, Troudi and The Ladyland Quartet quote the themes of other Truffaz compositions, even as they blend them with Arabian culture. Last but not least, Truffaz ends Mantis with a surprise, "Tahun Bahu." No, he doesn’t stray away from the aesthetic he presents at the front end of the CD. The tune itself is balladic in form, its changes reminiscent of those for "All The Things You Are," and Codjia’s guitar solo turns out to be a thing of beauty. But, surprise, "Tahun Bahu" isn’t really 4:49 minutes long, as mentioned in the liner notes. After a full minute of silence (Truffaz’ favorite device) at the end of those 4:49 minutes, The Ladyland Quartet delivers an encore performance. Sneakily seeping into the listener’s consciousness with locomotive-like puffing, the tracks extends, rather, into a 10:28-minute finale, complete with screeching guitar free playing and trumpeted wah-wahing.

Erik Truffaz may be an acquired taste, except for devotees of the later work of Miles Davis and for fans of uncompromising electric guitar flight. But the acquisition of such an appetite could be a fulfilling experience in itself.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Eric Truffaz
  • CD Title: Mantis
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Blue Note
  • Tracks: The Point, La Mémoire du Silence, Saisir, No Fear, Nina Valeria*, Parlophone, Magrouni†, Mantis, Yasmina, Mare Mosso, Tahun Bahu
  • Musicians: Erik Truffaz (trumpet); Manu Codjia (guitar); Michel Benita (bass); Phillipe Garcia, (drums); Anouar Brahem (oud)*; Mounir Troudi (vocals)†
  • Rating: Three Stars
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