Neil has played music by the Norwegian jazz trumpet player Arve Henriksen on Cosmic Jazz and the tracks he selected have always sounded clear, uplifting and spiritual. So to discover that Arve Henriksen was booked for the 2010 Norfolk and Norwich Festival in the ancient and beautiful setting of Norwich Cathedral sounded like the perfect match between artist and venue.
The evening was a Friday and one of the first warm nights of the summer, the Cathedral was packed and the music started with a soaring piece featuring Henriksen and sampler/DJ Jan Bang. Sadly, that was as good as it got. For the next piece, The Voice Project Choir emerged from the sides with whispering sounds of precious and pretentious intensity that set the tone for the rest of the evening. They are a local amateur choir and it showed.
Whenever Henriksen played the trumpet the tone was delicate and inspiring, even Middle Eastern flavoured at times. The pity was the trumpet features were all too rare as he was often on vocals or conducting the choir. The music, although pretty at times, seemed to range from the ancient Christian choral tradition through to jazz and on to contemporary classical. It was hard to see how lovers of any of these genres would feel satisfied. There were a significant number of empty seats after the interval, although it must be said many gave rapturous applause at the end.
Eleven days later – on a cold Tuesday evening after the Bank Holiday – there was another trumpeter in Norwich. This time it was French Blue Note recording artist Erik Truffaz, with the beatboxer Sly Johnson and Philiippe Garcia on drums at Norwich Arts Centre. This is a band whose bookings include The Jazz Cafe, the Hay-on Wye Festival and the Brecon Jazz Festival and whose Paris Project CD is released on Blue Note, one of the greatest jazz labels of all time.
There were twenty-five people in the audience…
On the day, tickets had been reduced to £5 only, obviously to little effect. The band came on stage, looked around in bewilderment, and – as Truffaz noted – this was like a private party.
Those of us lucky enough to be at this private party had a rare treat. It was music to stretch and overlap boundaries but in a way that fitted together, in a way that was challenging and in a way that explored the limits of what is jazz. Sly Johnson with occasional vocals – and some sampling but mainly beatbox provided a forceful rhythm section along with the powerful and excellent drummer Philippe Garcia. There was constant engaging and almost playful interplay between the two.
Then there was Erik Truffaz. He was cool and said little. His playing was understated, delicate and precise but still powerful enough to be heard between the drums and the beatbox. On the quietest tune of the evening Goodbye Tomorrow – written by Sly Johnson – his trumpet playing was sheer, soaring, ethereal beauty. Truffaz sometimes recorded his playing and then played it back; at times he joined with the other tw0 – and sometimes he just sat out. There were no lavish, demonstrative solos. There was no need for them. This was not a night for the traditional jazz journey round the soloists.
But there was lavish applause at the end from all twenty-five of us. So track down the recordings on Blue Note and if you get a chance to see Truffaz live – don’t pass it up.