French trumpeter Erik Truffaz's sonic world is a benevolent, positive one, fusing elements of Arabic and African musics, hip-hop, groove, dub, and pop into one electronically seasoned stew. Saloua, his first CD since 2003's The Walk of the Giant Turtle, continues its eclectic synthesis of the above musical ingredients, but with new musicians. Here Truffaz's group is composed of bassist Michel Benita, drummer Philippe "Pipon Garcia, and guitarist Manu Codjia. They're supplemented by Tunisian singer Mouni Troudi and spoken-word artist Nya on a few songs as well. No one could possibly fault Truffaz's intentions in showing how diverse musics and cultures can fuse sympathetically.
Unfortunately, good intentions do not necessarily produce good music. Much has been made the influence of electric-period Miles Davis on Truffaz's electronically altered trumpet tone and lyrical, melodic style. That's undeniable. But Truffaz seems to have adored Miles' 1985 cover of "Human Nature so much he never got around to listening to Bitches Brew or Pangaeahe's all about glossy melody, tepid exoticism, and precious little depth of feeling. And his band's right there with him throughout.
The tunes with Troudi are probably the best on the album, simply because Troudi's a stunning singer. Troudi's Arabic singing on the title cut is above reproach: robust, yet delicately soaring. But the electronic percussion, digital delay-saturated guitar and Truffaz's bland, tuneful trumpet do the singer no favors. "Tantrik is the best tune featuring Troudi; the group keeps the arrangement sparse and uncluttered.
But this is Truffaz's album, not Troudi's. "Whispering, one of the songs without Troudi, may be the worst tune ever released on Blue Note (rather an emphatic statement, but I'm sticking with it). Groaning, effect-heavy guitar swoons across the sonic canvas as Truffaz, with at times characteristically suspect intonation, plays a slight, winsome melody that's alarmingly similar in places to Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good. The melody's passed around from Truffaz to Benita's bowed bass, back to Truffaz, then to Benita's plucked bassbut the change of instrumentation doesn't substitute for musical development (no one's improvising; they're just playing that melody) and the result is something best shuddered at and forgotten.
"Dubophone is at least better than that one, with an Andy Summers-ish guitar sound and a dub feel. Actually it sounds like a Police outtake with a guest trumpeter in place of Sting. But Garcia's processed drums are no match for Stewart Copeland, and the Police sounded a lot rawerand more swingingthan this. Truffaz does seem to dig a little deeper here, though, and his playing taps into a greater depth of emotion than on most of the CD.
It's perfectly reasonable that Truffaz should love dub, Arabic, and hip-hop music. Yet somehow whenever he incorporates a genre into his own music, all he collects from it is a touristy, surface exoticism that is as ultimately slight as his own melodic instincts. All the prickliness of dub or hip-hopor, now that I finally mention it, jazzhas been removed.
Track Listing: Saloua; Big Wheel; Whispering; Yabous; Gedech; Dubophone; Ines; Tantrik; Ghost
Drummer; Le Soleil d'Eline; Spirale; Et la Vie Continue.
Personnel: Erik Truffaz: trumpet, electronics, melodica; Michel Benita: bass, samples; Philippe "Pipon"
Garcia: drums, samples, parlophone; Manu Codjia: guitars, electronics; Mounir Troudi:
voice, bendir (#1,4,5,7); Nya: voice (#2,4).