Naked Truth’s debut ‘Shizaru’ goes soul-deep into true avant-garde jazz

“My intention was to have a ‘band’ project in which everyone has equal input, with me coordinating the music that the members send in from different corners of the world.” –Lorenzo Feliciati, bassist

ots of musicians say they want a democracy in the recording studio. But when it comes to laying down tracks, it’s usually done in a top-down hierarchy, with the contributions of the session players done in embellished layers to the featured artist’s line of vision.

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The new Naked Truth band successfully achieves synergy in its Rare Noise Records debut, “Shizaru.”

Italian bassist Lorenzo Feliciati — who came up with Naked Truth as a band and Shizaru as its birth child, release July 12, 2011 on Rare Noise Records — didn’t want that at all. His line of vision had no use for session players; each individual, participating artist contributed equally, dynamically to the whole. Feliciati may have brought these guys (American trumpeter Cuong Vu, American drummer Pat Mastelotto, British keyboardist Roy Powell) together and started the ball rolling, but he didn’t play diva and take over. He blended in and joined them in the truest sense of the word, band.

“My intention was to have a ‘band’ project in which everyone has equal input, with me coordinating the music that the members send in from different corners of the world,” Feliciati described of his horizontal creative process. “Instead of a vertical approach, in which one instrument plays the melody or solos while the others provide support in the background, each voice is equal and contributes to the musical conversation as it moves along horizontally. Typically, a song would start with a bass riff or keyboard texture or percussion idea, and then each member would add whatever they felt was needed as the track came around to them; so it was the four of us playing and them improvising on each other’s playing-an eight-hands-on process!”

The payoff is an album of eight coherent, distinctive, deeply evocative soundtracks centered around a post-apocalyptic world in which the survivors learn to communicate in a more universal language following struggle, survival, and hope. The musicians’ inspiration obviously touches on Miles Davis, during his experimental period, King Crimson, Bill Laswell, and Weather Report, and effortlessly glides through and breaks down the walls of jazz, progressive rock, ambient jazz, and experimental, avant-garde world music.

“Instead of a vertical approach, in which one instrument plays the melody or solos while the others provide support in the background, each voice is equal and contributes to the musical conversation as it moves along horizontally.”

From “Faster Than An Automatic Door” and “66,” to “Touching Corners” and “Shizaru,” it’s apparent that Feliciati’s horizontal approach to contribution and creative synergy paid off. Most avant-garde fusion sounds the same, with rebellious anarchists trying for shock and dismay, and more than a little dangerously pretentious socio-political grandstanding, resulting in loud, shrieking, discordant noise rather than an organic, pleasing synthesis of different music with a difference.

In movie-within-a-movie’s “Faster Than An Automatic Door,” all components serve the greater good, to somehow capture a mood, a scenario, a world ravaged by too much civilization and the slow, somber recovery by its remaining citizens. It is sweeping, jarring, orchestral, and spare all at once, a miraculous feat in a jazz-fusion world where everything’s already been done to death. Every crescendo, every loping rhythmic, funky backbeat, every raucous jubilee of sights condensed and translated sonically in trumpet, drum, bass, and keys provides an essential link between the mind and the landscape.

In ambient, avant-garde jazz-fusion, the hardest thing to do is make the visionary, experimental music melodically easy to follow and impossible to forget. Naked Truth does exactly this in “Touching Corners.” Whoever came up with the fan- and serious musician-friendly melodic line strengthening throughout this rocking, haunting groove, is an off his rocker prophet. It’s easily the best single for a cross-over hit, combining hard-driving rock with an ethereal, ballet-like loveliness. The cascading, intensified piano amplifies an urgency of purpose.

Apart, the members of Naked Truth have run the usual remarkable gamut of gigs and tours, collaborative and solo, glimpsed greatness with a myriad of famous names (Anthony Braxton, Laurie Anderson, Art Farmer, Hall and Oates, Al Jarreau, David Bowie, Pat Metheny), and produced individual recordings representative of their unique jazz voice. Together, they’re something else, something worth saving.

The entire Shizaru project came to fruition about four years ago, when an idea began to germinate in Lorenzo Feliciati’s head. He’d enjoyed the work of Cuong Vu and Pat Mastelotto from his third solo album. He and his band worked well with Roy Powell for Bass Day 2007 in Manchester, England. So e-mailing everybody for this next endeavor was a no-brainer. Powell certainly thought so. “Each of these guys has their own approach to making music, both in their sound and in their playing and writing. I think our strengths come across on the recording, because we brought the summation of our individual careers to the table.”

Review first appeared in Examiner Jan. 6, 2012.

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