Trumpeter Erik Truffaz's new CD, Walk Of The Giant Turtle, is an unexpected release, indeed. When last we heard from Truffaz, on Mantis, he was playing with a new group of musicians, and his music, though still rife with the feel of drum 'n' bass, was beginning to sport some rock sounds as well as traces of African and Arab pop music. More importantly, Mantis also demonstrated that Truffaz was finding his own voice, helping to shed the inevitable comparisons to Miles Davis. On Walk Of The Giant Turtle, Truffaz is still sounding like his own man, but the original quartet of Marcello Giuliana (bass), Marc Erbetta (drums), and Patrick Muller (keyboards) is back, and there's less drum 'n' bass and more rock 'n' roll.
That's not to say that Truffaz has abandoned his organic electronica sound, but even the tracks that are most similar to some of his earlier work, like the delicate "Belle De Nuit" are infused with a new sensibility that is at once forward-looking and somewhat retro. It's almost as though he had taken some tricks from the playbook of more pop-oriented French musicians like St. Germain or the electro-duo Air. At first listen, I was somewhat underwhelmed by Walk. After the chattering intricacies of Mantis, this new album sounded a little too simple, with not enough happening. But repeated listening brings new pleasure as the album's overall rhythm begins to assert itself. This is probably the most cohesive album that Truffaz has made, and it needs to be heard as a single chunk of music.
Walk opens with "Scody Part 1" an ambient soundscape that slowly builds as a machine-like rhythm asserts itself and leads into the trippy dance music of "Scody Part 2". The piece bubbles nicely before dying out in a John Hassel-induced haze. Nothing we've heard from Truffaz previously has quite prepared us for the rock-out heard on "King B". There are certainly references here to Miles Davis's scorched earth funk heard on Agharta, but there's also a more basic rock influence that manages to recall earlier fusion while not really sounding like any of it. Muller's return on keyboards is certainly welcome, as his effects-laden Fender Rhodes work helps create a much more convincing rock sound than guitarist Manu Codjia was able to summon on Mantis. Truffaz turns on the wah-wah pedal as well, which is sure to stoke both controversy and the comparisons to Miles. The other out-and-out rockers are "Next Door" and "Seven Skies", both of which convincingly stake out this new psychedelic territory for Truffaz. On "Next Door" Erbetta and Giuliani rock out like Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell while Muller provides some truly phat keyboard sounds and Truffaz floats in and out of the storm. "Seven Skies" starts off like a hymn before getting into a groove that recalls some of the best Mahavishnu Orchestra material.
The ballads are the kind of breathy, ethereal fare that listeners of Truffaz will have come to suspect, but they often include new elements that are reminiscent of something from the past yet somehow also unfamiliar. "Flamingo" is certainly not unlike material heard on The Mask, but there seems to be more depth to it. Truffaz is playing with a newfound sense of identity, as well. He never sounds as though he doesn't know where he is going next, and while his trumpet sound will always be of the Miles Davis/Chet Baker/Kenny Wheeler school, he has definitely found his own voice. "Wilfried" features a haunting theme that I could have sworn I'd heard him play before, but hunting through Truffaz's previous work I couldn't match it with anything. "Turiddu" and "Wilfried" are probably the most similar tracks here to those recorded by Truffaz and this quartet previously, and they help provide reference points against which the newer-sounding material can be measured.
The title track, which ends the album, is really something altogether different. Following a brief intro featuring a rhythm track that sounds like breathing apparatus and a free form intro, Truffaz enters with the sparse theme backed by keyboards (perhaps either plucked piano strings or prepared piano) that sound like a koto. When that gives way to acoustic piano the overall effect is one of giant space around and between the musicians. Unlike some of the group's previous work, there is no activity for the sake of being busy. Instead, there is a deliberate, steady forward movement.
The Walk of the Giant Turtle is a definite step forward for Erik Truffaz in terms of defining his own sound and boldly mixing elements from the jazz, rock, and electronica flotsam of the last three decades or so. Truffaz has already been an important Euro jazz artist for several years, and this latest release should help to raise his profile here in the United States if listeners and critics can dig beyond the Miles comparisons and hear what's really going on here.