Ben Panucci Trio (Yum Yum Tree YYTR010)
Review by John Hardaker
Another strange but beautiful fruit has dropped from Yum Yum Tree Records – the label of great guitar jazz from Jess Green, Aaron Flower and Ben Hauptmann – in the shape of The Ben Panucci Trio’s Short Stories.
In common with the above mentioned guitarists, Ben Panucci is an entirely uncommon player, with a sound and vision entirely of its own logical and aesthetic world.
Also, in common with Green, Flower and Hauptmann, Panucci’s sound is entirely individual and recognisable from the first notes – in this case the sliding chord of the perfectly named ‘Lethargy Blues’. A crisp, chiming, almost blues tone, Panucci operates without added effects – opting to explore and coax new sounds from the electric instrument with almost an acoustic sensibility, beyond virtuosity.
‘Lethargy Blues’ is an early indicator of the aptness of the album’s title, Short Stories – each track feels like a small soundtrack to an episode in which the characters are just out of sight or obscured by clouds. I have never liked the laziness of the term ‘impressionistic’ when applied to music but Panucci’s compositions and playing – as well as the perfectly simpatico bass and drums of Alex Boneham and James Waples – tend to conjure shifting hazy scenes and fogged dramas just out of sight of the mind’s eye.
‘but anyway it isn’t a game’ – the title a lowercase conversational fragment perfectly reflected in the opaque composition of the tune: Panucci in its solo intro suggesting melancholy in descending resolutions, the sadness only strengthened as Waples and Boneham join him.
The storytelling ranges from the more accessible emotionally to the fascinatingly abstract. ‘Harmonics’ is just that: a skein of bass and guitar harmonics scratched across the top of a snare beat for 0:54. ‘Percussion’ is the band percussing for 1:48 – Panucci scratching, smearing and drumming on his strings, a device used on various tracks for startling effect. The intro to the darkly woven ‘Get Well’ is something to hear, made of smears and scrapes until the notes come.
But not all is out-there abstraction – just as one is lulling on all the atmospherics and haziness, the band whips into the Monk-ish ‘Party on the Event Horizon’, its driving swing reminiscent of Larry Coryell’s later work. The trio works beautifully through the solo sections, conversing joyfully and putting a real grin on the playing.
‘A Dance’ conjures Django romanticism in a drowned abandoned ballroom. ‘Old Themes’ calls to mind the exact opposite – a Radiohead miserablist anthem of cold gray towers, its dystopia shattered by the hot primary-coloured splashes of the Trio in full flight as the tune grows and progresses.
Such is the range and span of colours and shifting scenes across Short Stories. That all of this can be expressed through the limited means of a jazz guitar trio – to all intents and purposes acoustic – is not only a measure of Panucci, Boneham and Waples’ creative mastery, but also of their vision.
And it is that vision which – in a musical genre which can all too often veer into the empty adoration of technique – over and over rescues Jazz back for us, for Music.
Yum Yum Tree records yumyumtree.com.au
Ben Panucci on the web benpanucci.com
Ben Panucci Trio perform ‘Frazzled’ at Jazzgroove (505) Tuesday 28th February 2012