Naked Truth in the Naked City
An intimate, rustic setting, Brooklyn’s ShapeShifter Lab sports new artworks of jazz musicians, legends and then some, along its four long walls. And while the walls may be off-white, the mood lighting for an American premiere of the intercontinental Naked Truth band this September was anything but.
Having just made a change at trumpet—Cuong Vu out, cornetist Graham Haynes in—Naked Truth’s rise comes in the wake of two albums on RareNoise Records, 2011’s organic, varied Shizaru and the new outlandish Ouroboros. And the ShapeShifter set (the first of two, the other the following night in Woodstock) was all about the newest of the new from that new CD. Joining the American Haynes, Italian bassist Lorenzo Feliciati served as a kind of Jaco Pastorius/electric guitar prompt, ratcheting up the rock vibe when he wasn’t helping to create atmospherics alongside sneak-attack British keyboardist Roy Powell. At the center, and giving the band just the right amount of ammo and percussive nuance, was Austin-based drummer Pat Mastelotto.
ShapeShifter Lab is a new space in a new world of New York, a bellwether scene for a borough that’s seeing a resurgence. A club that appears to tilt more toward edgy acoustic jazz (a new band of drummer Ari Hoenig’s was also on the schedule), Naked Truth’s style and approach to jazz, to rock and a more ambient sound served as a refreshing counter. And with roots in such varied spots as King Crimson, Pat Metheny and Weather Report, Anthony Braxton, Laurie Anderson and David Bowie, it’s no wonder the vocabulary this night had a tendency to wander in the best sense of the word.
Beginning with the roaming, dreamy “Orange,” the song’s easy cadence belied the appearance of all things ominous. In fact, the whole show seemed to suggest more interest in the unexpected than any kind of overt, in-yo’-face rock vibe. “Orange”’s colors did change and become a bit more aggressive, but in a funky kind of way, Mastelotto’s rolling punctuations the real driver when the rest of the band wasn’t focused on drifting. As was the case throughout the evening, there was something going on at every position, Feliciati’s bass work nimble when it wasn’t raucous, Powell’s sonic bed floating when it wasn’t being funky, and all of it distinguished by Haynes’ piercing, warm lines on cornet. And with “Yang Ming Has Passed” and “Dust,” among others, you could start to get a sense of how this music is not written or prepared in any conventional fashion. Progressions, regular chord changes, any beginning, middle and end are just not part of the program, but somehow this basically modal flow remains crafted.
New member Haynes, off to one side, working not just his horn but his own effects, seemed to engage and then back off, going in and out, sensitive to the music’s cadences and the rest of the band’s ongoing conversations. His playing, whether unadorned or processed, evoked an ethereal world when it wasn’t piercing, his horn subtle, like a voice, and very conversational. His voice was essential.
To hear them live, Naked Truth’s suite-like performance was a delightful break from the standard approach of hearing a series of songs played well but not necessarily inspired. Part and parcel of their esthetic, it made complete sense to hear all of this music as one long journey, uninterrupted, conveying their on-stage communication. In fact, as the night wore on, it became apparent that Naked Truth’s sound was bigger than the room it was inhabiting. Not in the sense of them playing arena rock beyond the walls, but that it was capable of expanding beyond itself, referencing other arenas, suggesting some of that early Weather Report energy where you always solo and you never solo, the music not necessarily going this way or that, but you knew they knew where they were going all along.
Naked Truth was letting the music come to them, not pushing it. It’s as if they were under some kind of influence beyond themselves. And the suite-like character of the music allowed for patterns to emerge, disappear and re-emerge, certain rhythmic phrases perhaps a constant, throbbing pulse, steady, measured, yet ready to break free at a moment’s notice.
In the end, alongside the dark, turbulent rock overtones, Naked Truth’s music was dream music, atmospheric, the band’s seeming limitless patience to be carried along as if in a canoe on a slowly moving river clearly on display. Of course, that’s when they weren’t making abrupt left turns toward the sun, as they did on their forthright, hard-charging funk-rocker—reminiscent of 1980s Miles Davis—with “Right Of Nightly Passage.” Oh yeah, Naked Truth wasn’t playing songs so much as a songtrack, creating more of an experience than a “set,” the band a paradox of four people in a free flow but somehow creating a mirage of order.