Welshman Percy Jones has a long history as a widely admired and innovative bass player, most famously with BRAND X (1974-1980 and 1992-1999), but also with SOFT MACHINE, THE LIVERPOOL SCENE and various instrumental and improvisational American groups. Amongst the famous artists he has worked with are KATE BUSH, BRIAN ENO (“Another Green World” and “Before and After Science”), STEVE HACKETT and DAVID SYLVIAN.
Given his recent work with PAKT, it is no surprise to hear that he studied Electronic Engineering at the University of Liverpool, designing and building his own analog signal processors, including an amplitude and frequency sensitive flanger, as well as effects. His Voltage Controlled Filter can be heard on BRAND X’s “Do They Hurt?”. It will also come as no surprise to devotees of PAKT that he has also designed and developed compact antennae for amateur radio HF bands.
I have read different opinions about PAKT’s music; some say that is noodling to the nth degree, with the musicians seeming to go off in different directions and seldom meeting in the middle; an “All About Jazz” review said, “PAKT follow their own law, or make it up as they go along; either way it is thrilling.”
There have been a series of PAKT recordings on Moon June Records, but I’m going to start with the latest, “No Steps to Trace” (2024), a double CD comprising a 21-minute Part 1, which starts quietly as the musicians feel their way through the improvisation. A straightforward, guitar melody emerges, mostly a repeated quintuplet of notes followed by counterpoints until another chordal ‘theme’ emerges, settling into a groove, fairly typical of PAKT music; the drummer playing empathically in the background, gradually emerging from the aforementioned groove; Jones’s bass is, of course busily articulate, repeating a riff of its own; more guitar runs come into play and some carefully picked notes (I find the music best watched on video to observe the ‘moves’ behind the music, with electronics taking the listener to the half-way point with a gradual crescendo, more insistent, with more demonstrative drumming. And so it goes, as the band reaches a ‘comfort zone’ of sorts, allowing for fuller expression, the guitarists unleashing a barrage of weird and wonderful sounds, and more conventional soloing and rhythm to an increasingly straight from the shoulder level. A pause comes ⅔ of the way through, a time for reflection - which path to walk down now?
On the 15-minute Part 2, Jones leads from the front to some fragmented guitar and echoing electronics, the drummer’s sound ideally suited to this synergetic outfit. It builds faster than the first part, peaking just a few minutes in; more sense of urgency in getting to the groove this time. The synth and guitar sound like ‘The Twilight Zone’ theme, briefly, for nothing stays still for long in this shapeshifting music. I really enjoyed the interplay between bass / drums and the guitars on this one; a fluent and intriguing guitar break follows: the half-way point is quickly reached, a time for diminuendo. The question/ answer of the guitars is impressive, and reminds me, for no particular reason of STEVE HILLAGE in his more experimental moments. Some furious drumming leads to the most ascendent passage of play PAKT has unleashed so far but, inevitably, as it draws to a close it is time to put the lid back on this magical box of tricks and, sure enough, 3 minutes from the end begins a most amusing denouement.
As others have commented there is really no point in breaking all of the music down the way I have attempted to do, but it is my way of making sense of it and appreciating it all the more so, I will (almost) leave it there now and return to it, except to say that ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ features out of this world expansive guitar and bass playing that shows that Percy Jones’s playing has in no way diminished, but reached even greater heights over the years and that the drumming and percussion on the evocative and exhilarating ‘The Ghost Mills’ is breath-taking. That just leaves the three part ‘NYC’ improvisations, the last of which sounds like a frenzied KING CRIMSON jam, in a good way! Thoughts on these, and more PAKT reviews will appear on DISS soon!
“No Steps to Trace” is mind-blowing music that should prove very inspiring to would-be improvisers. Oh, and before I forget, the line-up is completed by Alex Skolnick on guitars, Tim Motzer on guitar and electronics, and Kenny Grohowski on drums. Details of how to order can be found on the Moon June pages on BANDCAMP.
More PAKT reviews to follow on DISS soon! (Also, a full article and comprehensive review of PAKT music will appear in the next issue of ACID DRAGON. See the LINK on this website for more information about the magazine).