AMN Reviews: Jones, Skolnick, Grohowski, Motzer – PAKT (2021; Moonjune Records); Jones, Skolnick, Grohowski, Motzer – PAKT Live in Pawling (2021; Moonjune Records)

I try not to use the term “supergroup” too often, but here is a context in which it fits. PAKT is the quartet of Percy Jones, Alex Skolnick, Kenny Grohowski, and Tim Motzer. All are veterans of numerous ensembles over recent decades. Jones, most notably, was the bassist for 70’s prog-fusion band Brand X. Guitarist Skolnick and drummer Grohowski have split their time between metal, jazz, and improv efforts. Guitarist Motzer (for whom I will admit a lesser familiarity) has been on over 100 recordings with a wide variety of outfits. This pair of double albums are their first releases.

PAKT brings the four together in a mid-pandemic, empty-venue live performance from August 2020. You would not be able to tell from this recording that they were masked and socially distanced. This is a prime-grade set of jams with virtuosic playing from all. Skolnick is aggressive on the electric, not afraid to solo at length but also to slow it down. In contrast, Motzer’s playing is more subtle, textural, features accentuations, and often takes a rhythmic role. Jones plays in his signature style, with loping lines, slaps, pops, and clicks. Grohowski is a hyperactive monster behind the kit as usual.

PAKT Live in Pawling was recorded just a few weeks ago in July 2021, and was their first performance in front of an audience. As a whole, the album is more slowly paced and introspective than its predecessor. This makes the group’s breakouts even more impactful. The interplay is more subtle, perhaps benefiting from having a year under their belts. As noted by the group, they were a bit anxious about how their spontaneous improvisations would go off. But that trepidation is not at all apparent from the resulting music, which comes across as indistinguishable from well-charted tunes.

PAKT could easily be categorized with the word “fusion”, which has some baggage going back many years. While acknowledging that fusion is what some listeners may hear on these albums, I would argue that PAKT’s moderately complex structured improv goes beyond that pigeonhole. Sure, there is an element of smoothness and the group rarely ventures too far outside. But these recordings also reflect a suppleness and technical proficiency that is high-level yet creative and charming. Well done.

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