Most musicians would be content with one successful band, but Swiss trumpeter Erik Truffaz is not the typical musician. Not content with leading two internationally acclaimed bands, he also finds time to collaborate with the likes of saxophonistsMichael Brecker and Joe Lovano, tablaist/producer Talvin Singh and trumpeter Jon Hassell. And if he's not playing a live soundtrack to a 1930s silent Japanese movie he can be found exploring the possibilities of electro-acoustic music with octogenarian Frenchman Pierre Henry or with electronic musicians from New York. His musical voyage of discovery takes him endlessly around the world and yet it could all have been so very different. But for a chance meeting it could have been another life.
AAJ caught up with Erik Truffaz and his long-standing bassist Marcello Giuliani in Bangkok.
Erik Truffaz is in relaxed, joking mood before the sound-check at the Thailand Cultural Centre as he sorts out the lighting with the lighting lady. It takes all of five minutes. "I played here about ten years ago with a Thai project," Truffaz reminisces, "we spent about two hours for the lights. During the concert it was the exact opposite! I was not the leader so for me it was fantastic! The leader was an old man and he wanted exactly a white light on him when he came on stage and they did exactly the opposite! As he came on they put the white light on the other part of the stage!"
It was about ten years ago too that Erik Truffaz seemed to burst onto the international music scene, although his quartet had been gigging for six years already at that point. "We were very lucky, because before I was teaching piano and ten years later I met this man who had been my pupil and he told me, 'Oh, I'm working now in EMI records and if you have another project please give it to me and I'll try and give it to the manager of the jazz division.'" The rest, as they say, is history. Erik Truffaz's quartet became the first band Blue Note France signed. It was a lucky break as Truffaz is quick to recognize: "Incredible! Incredible because I was living on the border of Switzerland near Geneva and you cannot imagine releasing something if you don't live in Paris. So it was incredible because the man who signed us was not from Paris and didn't have this mentality. We were really lucky, because if we hadn't had this opportunity it would have been...another life."
If Truffaz's parents had had their way it certainly would have been a different life. "My parents wanted me to be an electrician. I said no, it's not possible. I asked my father to buy a piano and I told him that in three years I was sure to be independent, making a living off music. In this period I had a dance band so he could feel that it was a possibility. They saw that I was not able to stay at school."
Whilst Truffaz may well have turned out to be an outstanding electrician, the recent release of his tenth album Face-a-Face (Blue Note, 2006) suggests that his decision to leave school early has been completely vindicated. His latest album, a double, features both his groups in concert. As Truffaz's music is aggrandized in concert it seems odd that it has taken ten years to release a live set. "The reason is that I've never recorded my live concerts well before," Truffaz explains. "When you record live you always think there is something you can do better." Bassist Marcello Giuliani adds: "Erik finally got a 16-track recorder and we recorded with that. Before that it was maybe more complicated to have a studio at the concerts all the timeit's expensive, and you don't want to tape just one concert. Imagine that one night you play bad. But it's true; we could have made it before."
In an era of rapidly improving technology the possibility of selling recordings of concerts via download a la Grateful Dead holds little attraction for either Truffaz or Giuliani. Giuliani explains: "Three guys buy it and one guy puts it on the net for free and that's it. And I think maybe there's a danger too, the more CDs you have of somebody the less value they have. Imagine if Pat Metheny released fourteen CDs a yearOK, you get one, you get two, great! And after? So when David Bowie said: 'It's great! I put all my music on the net.' You know, this guy's a millionaire. One thing you can't buy and that's 'live.'