This is a remix album and a good one — but a word of warning. If you think that the prime function of a re-mix is to render a track more amenable to the dancefloor you are in for a shock. Erik Truffaz is being marketed alongside label mate St.Germain, and the likes of Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, as part of the growing jazz-meets-dance phenomenon. However, Truffaz remains the most resolutely orthodox, in a high modernist sense, of the trio and these “revisits” are determined to keep it that way. The project is closer to the spirit of the sixties avant-garde, comparatively — and on some numbers absolutely. It should garner interest from a widening audience, because of the employment of “broken beats” and hip-hop samples, but it has no desire to shed its essential experimentalism and, it has to be said, artiness.
Truffaz’ basic sound is Miles Davis of the years around Bitches’ Brew. Think Zawinul-Davis with digital rather than rock rhythms and you are pretty close. The songs worked on here all to some extent hang on to that mood — indeed if they ditched it there would be precious little of Truffaz left. The material is drawn from the critically acclaimed The Mask, which itself was made up of two previous records, The Dawn and Brand New Corners. My guess is that those who like The Mask might find this a bit unnecessary and those who are coming from a jazz-house direction might find it all a little arid. I would advise both groups to persevere, and not simply because this represents a significant trend within contemporary music. There is plenty to enjoy, if you leave a few preconceptions at the door.
The six remixers are a motley crew and it is surprising, or perhaps a tribute to the artist’s strong musical identity, that the album has such a consistent feel. I have to confess that Mobile In Motion mean nothing to me — but as they still don’t, after a fairly uninspired opening take on “The Dawn”, I shan’t lose any sleep over it. The others involved are big gun Alex Gopher, aforementioned Scandinavian wizard — Wesseltoft, Switzerland’s DJ Goo (like a number of famous Frenchmen, Truffaz turns out to be Swiss), long-time collaborator Pierre Audetat and one Pierre Henry.
I am assuming it is THE Pierre Henry. If it is it makes sense, but if so he is no run-of-the-mill turntablist. Pierre Henry is a modern classical composer in the John Cage mould who has been making what he calls musique concrete since the late forties. One of the original acoustic-electric pioneers, he will be remembered by progressive rock fans for his 1970s work on Spooky Tooth’s Mass. He gets 11 minutes of “More” to play with and indulges in his rarefied weirdness to good effect. Over sustained slow trumpet phrases Henry utilises firstly a Gamelan orchestra (or its digital equivalent) and, from about halfway through the track, something along the lines of a Martian Invasion fleet. The overall result is eerie, but mellow and strangely compelling. An unlikely triumph, it forms the centrepiece of the sessions.
The other tracks are rather more conventional. The normally solid Gopher is the most underachieving, turning in a messy mix of lame rap and rocky guitar that buries Truffaz but has nothing to replace it. The surprise is DJ Goo who extracts a smoky Kind of Blue– plus-hip-hop flavour from the tune “Siegfried”. His “Zig Zag Zen” hook is catchy (if somewhat enigmatic) and adds a much needed downbeat funkiness to the proceedings. Bugge Wesseltoft, takes time off from making the best jazz meets house album this year to turn “Sweet Mercy” into a typical Wesseltoft excursion — all luscious double-bass and sparse keyboards. Excellent — but definitely Bugge rather than Erik. That leaves, on what is a fairly short set by modern standards, Pierre Audetat. “Less” is already getting plenty of attention and, as Audetat comes from a similar set of aesthetic concerns to Truffaz, is probably the most mutual of the collaborations. More obviously jazzy (moderne) than the other sections, it is probably the best place to start if you want to investigate this hybrid form. It boasts some fine staccato keyboard work and the more plangent side of Truffaz’ playing gets an airing. Refreshingly uptempo, its relative brevity is a disappointment.
Two other brief points. Music in Motion, who I maligned earlier, redeem themselves a little with a pleasant “Dawn (part 2)” providing the album’s signing off piece. Also, unless he is the mystery Motion people, I can’t find Gilles Peterson, who gets billing as one of the contributors, anywhere. It doesn’t really matter since there is enough talent to go round — but it seems very apt that the original acid jazz man should be involved in this latest phase of its evolution.
So . . . interesting stuff. I would have welcomed a few more beatier cuts, and maybe the odd deep house work out, as there is a rather reverent hush about the whole affair. The textures are well woven though and the Truffaz is a fittingly haunting presence throughout. Most mixes add some neat touch or other. Some jazz fans will sniff, they already are in certain magazines, but this is genuinely creative music and deserves a hearing. It won’t set charts or clubs alight in the way St. Germain has done this past year but it will add to the growing awareness that there is a new fusion in town. It comes in many guises, all of which are taking jazz into the new century and drawing in a new generation of listeners. Much digital-electronic music is imaginative and exploratory enough on its own terms, therefore the alliance with jazz is an obvious and, so far, a fruitful one. Blue Note is to be commended in spotting the trend. The high profile and seal of approval that the mighty label carries will do the new music no harm at all. Now if they want to be really daring they could sign Carl Craig and Kerry Dixon Jr. and give the digital revolution’s African-American originators some overdue recognition.