PAKT – No Steps Left To Trace

PAKT – No Steps Left to Trace

The ‘P’ in PAKT is Mrs Jones’s lad Percy, the virtuoso fretless bass player on all the Brand X albums from Unorthodox Behaviour in 1976 to Manifest Destiny 21 years later. On one of those albums – I think 1982’s Is There Anything About? – is a track mysteriously entitled TMIU-ATGA, which stands for ‘They’re Making It Up As They Go Along’.

Here, then, is an album of Percy Jones with musical friends Alex Skolnick and Tim Motzer on guitars and drummer Kenny Grohowski making it up as they go along. Two-and-a-quarter hours of improvisation, six studio tracks and five live cuts recorded during 2021 and 2023 at various locations in New York and Philadelphia.

The studio CD kicks off with No Steps Left to Trace, Part 1 – Motzer opens with electronic noises and Grohowski offers gentle cymbal washes before Jones’s bass bubbles and buzzes mournfully while Skolnick supplies studied guitar phrases. Eventually, things settle into a steady groove in B, increasing in volume and complexity until, at the 14-minute mark, things slow down again for some subdued, contemplative musical fragments.

Part 2 is a bit more frenetic, driven by Grohowski’s busy drums, while the equally squally On the Other Side is also split into two parts, separated by a few minutes of abstract electronic noises.

On the live CD, The Ghost Mills uses electronic noises and sampled news voices to create menacing soundscapes. NYCIII gets positively funky at times, and closer Solar Myth allows the guitarists to duel together in what sounds like a fight to the death.

Now, improv is a bit of a Marmite-y thing, isn’t it? You tend to either love it or hate it. Prog bands aren’t generally known for their full-on, no rules, no preparation improv – King Crimson used to do it live, particularly with the 1973/74 line-up – but most of the time the improvisations are on specific instruments during more structured, composed pieces.

It is true that some of the most celebrated albums in jazz were almost wholly improvised. Bitches Brew by Miles Davis springs to mind. Yet even that benefited from a great editor in Teo Macero, who hacked the sessions down into six tracks that felt as if they had some sort of shape and cohesion to them.

The PAKT recording is offered with virtually no editing whatsoever, with some individual tracks stretching out beyond 20-minutes. Sure, there are many occasions when the quartet takes flight and produces something truly powerful and exciting, and there’s clearly plenty of mysterious musical telepathy going on. At times, the band sounds like the soundtrack to a nuclear attack – at others it whispers, scrapes and burbles.

But there are also many moments when the music feels aimless and repetitive, with everything played in similar doomy minor keys with very few chord changes. The fact is that the more people you have improvising, the harder it is to successfully change direction together, so you end up going… nowhere.

Jones is a virtuoso bass player and has helped to create some amazing improvised tracks with Brand X and, and more recently with his fusion trio Tunnels. But, for me, PAKT edge too far into a world of aimless noodling that will test the patience of most listeners. This one’s for Percy Jones fanatics only – and his mum, of course.

01. No Steps Left to Trace, Part 1 (21:11)
02. No Steps Left to Trace, Part 2 (15:34)
03. On the Other Side, Part 1 (11:12)
04. 4 Wormhole (1:44)
05. On the Other Side, Part 2 (9:29)
06. Spontaneous Combustion (9:58)
07. The Ghost Mills (9:21)
08. NYC III (18:06)
09. NYC IV (11:14)
10. NYC V (7:32)
11. Solar Myth (22:34)

Total Time: 137:56

Percy Jones – Bass Guitar
Alex Skolnick – Guitar
Kenny Grohowski – Drums
Tim Motzer – Guitars, Electronics

Record Label: MoonJune Records
Country of Origin: U.K./U.S.A.
Date of Release: 1st March 2024

PAKT – Website (Tim Motzer) | Bandcamp (MoonJune)
Percy Jones – Website (Brand X)
Alex Skolnick – Website | Facebook | YouTube
Kenny Grohowski – Website | Facebook | YouTube
Tim Motzer – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp