La Maison Francaise, Washington, DC • April 28, 2002
Space and one’s surroundings influence conduct. Observers have been noting this phenomenon for centuries. From the claustrophobic, paranoia of the Panoptican prison to the ululating calm of the beachfront, where you are can dictate how you act. This was notably in effect at the French Embassy on Sunday, April 28 — much to the disappointment of this reviewer.
French trumpeter Erik Truffaz is truly a delight, and may one day be considered one of jazz’s most innovative players. His music encompasses the music’s past, present, and future, combining elements of hard bop, early fusion, and free jazz, and today’s drum n’ bass. At times, the music is mind-bending, at other times just straight-up funky, but always a challenge to the listener. But all this seemed lost on the continental, automaton audience that night crammed into the auditorium. This was a space constructed for classical music recitals (not down-home funk), and, with jazz being “America’s classical music,” their reverential palls were donned, and everybody presented the properly sober facade. Nobody could smell the funk emanating from the stage, or appropriately ignored it as though somebody expelled gas while passing the foie gras. They missed out on some genuinely explosive dance moments, and the band lacked the interplay so crucial to live jazz music.
However, Truffaz’s Ladyland Quartet played on, and played extraordinarily well. Truffaz himself is not the best trumpeter to ever grace the jazz stage, nor would he probably ever claim to be. His is a subtle approach to the instrument, playing the spaces as an older Miles or a younger Chet Baker, exploring the full range of his limitations. However, some of his compositions seemed brilliant live. And Truffaz possesses a maverick madness for experimentation that can only be performed by he lunatics around him. While bassist Michel Benita mainly provided strong rhythms, Philippe Garcia was simply insane on the drums. Like a modern-day Buddy Rich (with tons more subtlety), Garcia machine-gunned the skins, oftentimes laying down manic beats that one thought had to be electronic (and weren’t!). He was simply that fast. Guitarist Manu Codija was also a man on a mission that night, using his instrument to provide dreamy soundscapes, early Wes Montgomery grooves, or John Zorn Bizarro World solos. When Codija stepped into the spotlight, the audience sat in rapture.
As they did when Benita and Garcia had their Keller Williams moments. Benita, with aid of laptop, gave us a fine show of the upright bass’s versatility as a sound machine. He tapped on it, pounded it, put a bow to its strings, plucked a dope rhythm, sampling the entire time, layering each sound on top of the other until he had a song. After a few moments of rhythm building, the rest of Ladyland joined the party to give some refreshing funk that fell flat before the dance-less feet of the audience. Garcia pulled off the same trick with a bullhorn: growling, purring, talking, droning, doing whatever it took until he had the appropriate soundscape to accompany his rat-a-tat-tat, manic drumming.
Of course, this crowd wasn’t dead, and was appropriately titillated. We were all quite sophisticated and proper, trés chic, I might say, clapping after each solo and song, not too raucous and never callous or rude enough to talk during any number. Everything was three-piece-suit-and-expensive-pumps prim. Nobody would ever break a sweat to create a dancefloor and dance (we had a wine reception to go to after the concert). So, funk was both feted and affronted. But I can never blame Truffaz. He is simply a treasure.