Just a little more than a year after Italian power bassist Lorenzo Feliciati introduced the Naked Truth fusion-prog supergroup to the world with Shizaru, they’re back with another simultaneously fierce and fragile effort, Ouroboros. Joining Feliciati once again are keyboardist Roy Powell and drummer Pat Mastelotto in yet another set of loosely structured music that downplays soloing and places emphasis on collective improvisation and barren, harshly colliding soundscapes and a careful balance of hand-made and technologically-assisted music.
The main story behind Naked Truth’s second outing is the subject of the personnel change. Cornetist Graham Haynes doesn’t outright replace the departed trumpet player Cuong Vu so much as he fills in the void with something different. The difference begins and ends with that cornet, the trumpet-like instrument that actually preceded the trumpet as a key horn of choice in early jazz. Haynes converts this musty old — but more human sounding — instrument into a into a cutting-edge sound shaper for 21st century fusion. It’s something he’s honed as one half of an improv ambient-electronica collaboration with DJ Hardedge.
Though Feliciati initially assembled the group and produced the album, the music here comes as a result of true collaboration. Typically, Powell would create ambient, electronic surfaces, Haynes would add some harmonic shape to it, and Feliciati and Mastelotto would bring the rhythmic components and the crunch. Then, they’d mesh it all together in the studio.
And the music really does feel that way. Sometimes it works pretty well and other times, it works really, really well, as on “Dust.” Originally conceived by Powell as a Pink Floydian-type ambience, Mastelotto clashes against it with a runaway rhythm established by electronic drums with fills on acoustic. Haynes’ altered cornet utters long, longing notes like Miles on “Spanish Key” and Feliciati’s growling bass moves around like some lumbering, pissed off beast.
Feliciati assumes the role of a heavy metal guitarist with his bass on “In A Dead End With Joe,” but it’s Mastelotto’s sophisticated syncopations that steal the show. Both combine superbly for the one true groove song of the album, “Neither I;” at least it grooves for the first half of it. During the quitter half, Powell fits in a pretty piano rumination amidst the unsettled atmospherics. “Dancing With The Demons Of Reality” mixes spurts of rock-edged bombast with suspended, electronica-kissed intervals. Feliciati’s thick bottom end recalls the style of Bill Laswell, in whose studio this album was recorded and who produced that critical, final mix of the record.
With all the intricate interplay, labyrinth rhythmic patterns and unconventional harmonics going on, along with the presence of Mastelotto, all this might sound like Belew-era King Crimson, and that description isn’t far off the mark. Pat M. even brings the ol’ “Thela Hun Jinjeet” gallop to “Right Of Nightly Passage.” The immediately following “Yang Ming Has Passed” also boasts a strong Crimson flavor, but the mere presence of Haynes’ cornet pulls the music slightly in a jazz direction, as his echoing, often-layered murmur often does throughout Ouroboros.
With the benefit of hindsight, as skillful a trumpet player Cuong Vu is, Graham Haynes’ electronically contorted cornet proves to be a better fit for the Naked Truth character. It’s a character with a sharper definition over the first album, a product of a band that’s gelling well. I liked Naked Truth before, but there’s even more to like about them this time around.
Ouroboros will go on sale October 23 by Rare Noise Records.
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