The Walk of the Giant Turtle
Blue Note Records
The biggest artistic challenge many trumpeters face when embarking on an electronica-fusion excursion is detouring away from paths already established by Miles Davis. French trumpeter Erik Truffaz has struggled with this problem throughout his career, but his more recent works, such as last year's Mantis, in which he flirted with Middle Eastern textures and rhythms, and this year's follow-up, The Walk of the Giant Turtle, show that he's slowly developing his own musical personality.
That's not to say that The Walk won't conjure direct images of Miles. Truffaz still fancies that delicate, vibratoless tone on muted trumpet; and his languid phrasing and crying nuances certainly conjures the Prince of Darkness. The long, sustained notes on "Scody Part I" and "Wilfried" readily bring to mind Miles' Aura, while the skulking dirge vamp on "Flamingos" shamelessly betrays its blueprints from Miles' Get Up With It. Truffaz, however, comes into his own man mainly through his sense of melody. He prefers simple melodic hooks that often glide over the glassy textures created by keyboardist Patrick Muller, but whereas Miles often blew forceful staccato figures and more gutbucket flavor into the mix, Truffaz seldom gets riled-up, even on the more aggressive cuts. He allows his elusive melodies to evaporate amidst the swooshing soundscapes.
On the riotous "King B" and "Next Door," Truffaz delves into hard rock as Marc Erbetta pounds away frantically while bassist Marcello Giuliani and Muller concoct electric guitar textures. Unfortunately, Truffaz's anemic tone gets lost in the sonic mayhem. He whimpers and whims, sounding desperate, like he's being battered by the sonic assault. He's much more persuasive on the deep house groove "Scody Part II" and the R&B-ish, "Turiddu," which displays more distinctive melodic inventiveness and less-contrived sound sculptures. The Walk may not be the grand departure from Miles that Truffaz so greatly needs to make, but it does document a few, small steps he's taken.
Dave Douglas fares much better at not mimicking Miles too much with Freak In. That may be because Douglas excels at not doing the obvious, even when he's playing loving tributes to some of his musical heroes (Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell, Booker Little, etc.). Douglas also has crafted a distinctive personality, both melodically and harmonically, that always comes through strong, regardless of stylistic idiom or instrumentation. Still, Freak In has some undeniable linkage to Miles, particularly "Black Rock Park," whose stop-start groove can be easily traced to "Gemini/Double Image" from Live-Evil. Karsh Kale's popping tablas on "November" and the title track also points back to that same era. Some of Douglas' solos also bear a resemblance to Miles' edgy, percussive riffs, even though Douglas fills his improvisations with far more notes. But songs like the gorgeous "Porto Alegre," in which Douglas' forlorn trumpet billows through atmospheric electronics, and the playful "Hot Club of 13th Street," where Joey Baron kicks in an infectious second-line groove, Freak In sounds more reverential than referential.
Freak In, when compared to The Walk, is also a much more absorbing and dynamic listen. Douglas sounds less self-conscious than Truffaz. The capricious interplay he engages with saxophonist Seamus Blake, keyboardists Jamie Saft and Craig Taborn and guitarist Marc Ribot are joyous moments as are the dank Tom Waits-meets-Prince cyber funk of "Wild Blue" and the blissful "Maya." If you're going to bite Miles' '70s fusion innovations, you might as well have fun at it.