On True Stories, saxophonist Andrew Rathbun sets poetry to music, specifically two poems by Margaret Atwood: True Stories and Bluejays. Vocalist Luciana Souza comes on board to sing Rathbun's angular, challenging melodies, attempting to give Atwood's opaque verse the natural quality of song. "True Stories" is divided into three parts, one for each stanza of poetry, whereas "Bluejays" is one self-contained piece. That's not all, however; the program also consists of seven strong instrumental tracks, including three brief vignettes that appear at various intervals. Rathbun, playing tenor and soprano, is joined by Taylor Haskins on trumpet, George Colligan on piano and Fender Rhodes (mostly Rhodes), John Hebert on bass, and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. Despite its complexity and rhythmic drive, the music has a subdued quality, a kind of cool yet impassioned fire. Highlights include the hip, serpentine funk of "Another Aspect," the ethereal intensity of "Cards," and the propulsive, loosely flowing 7/8 of "She Who Chose (The Lies That Daylight Told Us)."
Jazz treatments of poetry aren't terribly common, although Rathbun's colleagues, Luciana Souza and Frank Carlberg, have done relevant work in the field. The poetry-based compositions on True Stories contain moments that are forced and others that are magical, although a listener's assessment may well be different every time. A great poem has many layers of meaning, and Rathbun's musical evocations add even further depth to the interpretive puzzle.