Naked Truth – Avian Thug (2016)

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The just-released Avian Thug is Act III of this progressive fusion supergroup Naked Truth, assembled by the sage electric bassist Lorenzo Feliciati, an act that isn’t in any danger of wearing thin. Still comprised also of co-founding members Pat Mastelotto on drums and percussion and Roy Powell on keys as well as Graham Haynes on cornet for his second go ’round with the band, Naked Truth continues its evolution through increased symmetry. Avian Thug, available through Rare Noise Records, also benefits from having Bill Laswell sharing in the production duties with Feliciati and overseeing the album’s final mix.

While Feliciati is the leader, there’s a lot a democracy happening on Avian Thug, and the record is better for it. The group composed all seven compositions together, and no one member dominates: it’s an ego-less undertaking among a collection of very strong musical personalities, a rare feat that makes possible a rare treat.

The sub-five minutes shorter songs are front-loaded. I would even assert that “Rapid Fire” is too short, because Rapid Fire is so damned smokin’ only to be extinguished before it reached the four minute mark. Powell’s opening fractured organ lines get increasingly agitated over Mastelotto’s swing-to-rock bash. Haynes enters just as things get funky to conjure up visions of Miles at the Fillmore.

As Feliciati’s electric bass is usually found at the core of each performance, his less-is-more approach ends up making his contribution more impactful because of the wide intervals he often allows between his figures; you tend to notice him more because he’s not present at every beat. That’s lent an diffused air to grooves like the one he creates with Mastelotto for “Lazy Elephant,” a lumbering beat and sticky bass working in a perfect communion for this groove construction. Powell occupies the other end of this sonic spectrum with his prepared piano and otherworldly sonorities, and Haynes’ cornet makes lonely stabs into the dark ambiance.

A blast kicks off a multi-rhythmic motion on “Trap Door,” which seems to pull in cultures from all corners of the world. Haynes’ overdubbed cornet evokes Decoy-era Miles and behind him things open up when Feliciati pulls out and Mastelotto attacks his cymbals. A distorted extreme bottom bass line crawls on the floor of “Tense Shaman” while Haynes floats way up high above it. Powell’s fragile electric piano dissolves into a void as the band collects itself and reboots the beat but with a different chord pattern. “Avian Thug” announces itself with a muscular rock beat, and Powell’s alien analog synth solo leads a ghoulish noise until Haynes’ subdued cornet arrives to keep the wickedness at bay.

Grooves get overtaken by arid sonic contours for the final two tracks, for the most part. An unsettled ambient mood pervades “Day Two At Bedlam,” set by sampled strings, a flowing prepared piano and murmuring bass over sometimes dissonant chords. Haynes’ electro-assisted horn harmonics over a spare piano on “Moon At Noon” is a nod to Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvær. A start-stop thump enters around 5:45, Mastelotto closely following and accenting Feliciati’s shuffling bass line long after Feliciati bows out. Eventually, the groove dies out only to be resuscitated as the performance winds down.

I don’t know if it’s Bill Laswell’s involvement in this, or this is just a band of members getting more confident and more comfortable with each other, but Avian Thug sounds like the best thing they’ve made so far, and Naked Truth had already gotten off to a nice start with their first two projects. Now, they have reached cruising altitude.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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