Improvisation is the essence of jazz and all progressive music. And on August 15, 2020 at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn, four masked men made a PAKT (ahem) to improvise spontaneously for nearly two hours. Guitarists Alex Skolnick and Tim Motzer, electric fretless bassist Percy Jones, and drummer Kenny Grohowski, all facing reduced performance schedules because of COVID-19 lockdown rules, simply set up at the venue, socially distanced with only minimal additional personnel present to record the event, and played whatever came to mind.
The quartet achieves whisper-to-scream dynamics on both discs one (subtitled The Unsilence) and two (The Sacred Ladder). Disc one’s 12-minute opener, “Emergence,” showcases the yin-yang chemistry of the textural Motzer (who enters on a hybrid acoustic/electric guitar) and the fully electrified Skolnick, as well as that of the 73-year-old Jones and the youthful Grohowski. In the 1970s, Jones became the European answer to Jaco Pastorius (while sounding nothing like him) with iconic fusion band Brand X; he recently left the group after 45 years, but not before playing with Grohowski, the Miami-raised musician who joined a list of great Brand X drummers including Phil Collins, Kenwood Dennard, Chuck Burgi, and Mike Clark.
On subsequent pieces “The Mystery” and “Nigh Crossings,” the guitarists employ loops, samples, and atmospherics while Jones and Grohowski provide pulses punctuated by the bassist’s trademark harmonics and the drummer’s various intricacies. Disc two features more of the same, albeit without repetition. The opening “Perseverance” cascades toward primal-scream therapy, with no letdown leading into the subsequent “The Sacred Ladder” through the closing “Cosmic Fire.” Such total improvisation is true musical democracy and can only be achieved by intent listening. Politicians could benefit from a lesson by this PAKT.