Cosmic Jazz Countdown – No. 3

Derek: Little is often more. A jazz artist who exemplifies this dictum is the Swiss-born (although French resident) trumpet player Erik Truffaz. He is a master of spaces and a wizard at creating atmospheres.

Truffaz listened to A Kind of Blue at a young age and it shows. He has obviously also listened to In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew because you can hear that too. Yet, he has something in his sound that is distinctive. For one thing he has made successful use of a rapper, which is something that has not been achieved my much jazz-rap fusion. On Siegfried, from the Blue Note album Bending New Corners (1999), Nya delivers a low-key matter-of-fact rap over the bass, drum and piano of Marcello Giuliani, Marc Erbetta and Patrick Muller. The bass provides a constant catchy, acoustic, beat from the first beat and the piano is prominent throughout, with changes of tempo, volume and even the odd bluesy rhythm that can make you sway from side to side.

The atmospherics are at their height, though, once Truffaz enters. The trumpet soars and inspires but each solo is minimalist, controlled and measured. If you listen to Truffaz live you’ll see a cool, quiet, restrained character which reflects his musical approach. Yet the music is intense, emotional and uplifting. There is no better tune to illustrate this than Siegfried.

Neil: This one is special for me. It’s close to where this jazz journey began. You can find Peace One on the album My Goal’s Beyond, originally issued on Douglas Records in 1970 and now available (if you can find it) on a Rykodisc or Knitting Factory reissue.

I first heard it in 1970 as a teenager novitiate in jazz. With no internet and little to listen to on the radio, record shops were my introduction to the music. Icons like Charlie Parker were part of my understanding of the mythology of the music, so I know that I really wanted to like jazz. I’d just not listened to much of it. I bought My Goal’s Beyond on because of the album cover: a benign looking McLaughlin gazing serenely into the middle distance while a framed photo of a shaven headed guru (Sri Chinmoy) looks out impassively alongside him. It wasn’t like most of the jazz covers I’ve seen and it drew me in immediately. The track listing on the back confirmed things – a Charles Mingus tune, something from A Kind of Blue and a Chick Corea composition among them.

But the real delight didn’t begin until I got the record home and played side B[1]. The real surprise is here.  It begins with a sitar drone, and then Charlie Haden’s insidiously cool bass line waltzes its way through McLaughlin’s tune. Even violinist Jerry Goodman and drummer Billy Cobham (who would later appear in McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra) tame their natural excesses to complement the leader’s open soloing on acoustic guitar. Dave Liebman is in fine voice on soprano and Badal Roy’s tablas along with Airto’s minimal percussion fills fit perfectly.

This track has entranced me ever since I first listened to it that summer evening over forty years ago and I come back to it every year with the same sense of wide-eyed wonder.


[1] Ask your parents about this one: in the old days, those black vinyl things had two – yes, two! – sides…

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