PAKT, is an authentic powerhouse of virtuoso musicians blending and intersecting innovative sounds within the realms of avant-garde rock, electrifying jazz, experimental, atmospheric, psychedelic, and more, is an immersive encounter as much as a musical endeavor. One could immediately consider this an extension of the 1970’s fusion band Brand X, yet PAKT goes far beyond in its exploration of textures and fusion into the realms of a free-form improvisational universe. An aural cinematic auditory journey, PAKT offers listeners an unplanned sonic expedition with no predetermined destination, minimal prearrangement, and scant regard for traditional forms and conventions.
Uncommon is the artist who can flourish in such a spontaneous setting, yet PAKT consisting of Percy Jones on fretless bass guitar, Alex Skolnick on guitar, Kenny Grohowski playing the drums, and Tim Motzer also on guitar and electronics all rise to the challenge. Armed with a plethora of tastefully applied effects, Motzer and Skolnick generate atmospheres so otherworldly and celestial that one might be surprised to learn they originate from a guitar. Meanwhile, Grohowski and Jones approach their instruments texturally, seamlessly intertwining with each other and the quartet as a cohesive whole. The music spans the spectrum from highly perceptive to intense, showcasing the collective strength of all four musicians' listening skills, rendering their group play as cohesive as it is unpredictable. Welsh bassist Jones, now a resident of New York, is renowned for his time with the legendary jazz fusion group Brand X (featuring drummer Phil Collins, yes, that one) and extensive studio collaborations, especially with Brian Eno. Skolnick is a versatile improviser with jazz and world influences, forming a dynamic Jekyll & Hyde contrast with his high-profile role as the lead guitarist of the metal band Testament. Grohowski's recent associations include John Zorn, a revitalized version of Brand X, and the avant-metal ensemble Imperial Triumphant. Motzer boasts a rich background in free improvisation, contributing to bands like Bandit65 (with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel) and Orion Tango, among other collaborations on his 1k Recordings label.
Prior to this album, all PAKT's releases had been extracted from live performances. This studio session occurred during the band's East Coast tour in December 2021. Following several successful shows in Upstate New York, including a performance at musician Daryl Hall's venue in Pawling, NY, the band took a day off in the Catskills Mountains. There, they recorded live at NRS Studios, situated in the home of musician/recording engineer Scott Petito, whose studio has hosted luminaries such as John Scofield, Chick Corea, and James Taylor. PAKT set up in a circle, all in the same room, and performed, mirroring their live concert setup. The session began in the late morning and continued past dusk, resulting in a substantial collection of material—a compelling snapshot of the band's musical state in 2021.
Tim Motzer, the producer of this recording and the artistic mind behind its visuals, reflects, "One of the things we all realized is that this band isn't going backward... it may be fueled by what we've done in the past, but really, it’s a forward-evolving band composing in-the-moment, finding new language, and discovering our music as we go along. It's in that feeling that the title, 'No Steps Left to Trace,' came to me because our music is a continuum, more like a journey or an experience. We are, in a sense, tunneling or boring through the musical abstract toward and through to the ‘other side.’" Skolnick adds, "From the moment we did our first performance together, it was clear that this project had a special chemistry that doesn’t happen all that often. The fact that we found this chemistry in our favorite Brooklyn venue, called Shape Shifter Lab, is fitting. It being the height of the 2020 Pandemic, that first show was streamed, with no audience present. Our first studio album ‘No Steps Left to Trace’ is a return to us just playing to each other, only this time, we have a number of live shows and touring under our belt, recorded in a high-quality studio. It’s a great document of PAKT in 2021."
In a live setting, they share the experience with their audience, creating a genuine communal journey. The Live CD curated by Motzer features five such voyages, including one from Buffalo, three from NYC (Nublu), and one from Philadelphia. Including the live album alongside the studio release showcases the growth and evolving chemistry of PAKT from the 2021 studio recording to the more recent live recordings in 2023. It presents a captivating contrast with remarkable interplay and attentive listening from all musicians, making it an excellent introduction to the band’s music for newcomers and a valuable addition to their discography. All tunes have been composed impromptu by Jones, Skolnick, Grohowski, Motzer. The album is produced by Motzer and PAKT, Executive producer Leonardo Pavkovic of MoonJune Records which now offers high resolution recordings of their new releases.
So, you may ask, how does it sound? Simply excellent. There is an open space around the drums with each element shining through concisely. The bass carries the low end without overweighting the overall mix, while guitars are carefully blended over the rhythm parts. I specifically noticed the dynamics that elevate the listening experience, rising and falling with vigorous crescendos and mesmerizing quiet sections. Although there are coloration and depth differences between the live versions, these didn’t phase me, given the recordings were made over a few different shows in different locations. In fact, I rather liked stepping into a new aural realm as the band moves from one location to the next. Not only is the sound different, but the mood that is conveyed in these songs seems to mimic the spaces where the band performed.
The album is available in 3 formats, most likely the preferred choice for audiophiles is the 48kHz / 24-bit lossless download through BandCamp. Also, a 2x CD edition that collectors may order as a signed edition shipping from the USA or unsigned shipping from Europe, and a 2x LP 150 grams, gatefold, unsigned and shipping from Europe; all physical editions include the full hi-res download.
Every album is completely different from each other, these are truly progressive cosmic fusion jazz improvisational releases. It is worth noting that fans can obtain a download version of the band’s entire discography at a discounted price.
Scheduled for release March 1, 2024
High Resolution Lossless 48kHz / 24-bit download, or 2x CD, 2x 150g LP, and via streaming.
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About the Author
Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.