Peculiarly and rather sadly, in 27 years of conversations with innumerable artists and members of the experimental music world I never got to directly speak, or at least swap emails, with the late Mike Panico. Together with my efficient interlocutor Kevin Reilly, he was the deus ex machina behind the Relative Pitch label. I was deeply touched by Panico’s extreme decision, especially when reading the narrative of his sociable disposition by colleagues and friends; in a nutshell, nobody seemed to expect what happened on October 2, 2018. Proof, once more, that too many extremely sensible beings are having a hard time, in spite of the healing force of “our” music.
Nothing better than honoring the memory of a friend by producing significant sounds. Bassist Michael Bisio, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm did exactly that in Requiem For A New York Slice, the title jokingly referring to Panico’s passion for pizza. Three instrumentalists of deserved renown united under an aim that transcended the mere achievement of a sonic wholeness, symbolizing instead the attempt to remain in conjunction with a soul that may be hypothesized as gone but it’s probably not.
Playing with unfeigned concentration is also a way to fight sorrow. This recording, made a few days following Panico’s birth into eternity, mostly reflects that condition. It’s a constant shift of emotional states, typified by instinctive choices which, in turn, generate an alternance of rarefaction and intricacy. Raucous upper partials by Bisio and Lonberg-Holm complement Knuffke’s somewhat peaceful lines; elsewhere, the strings’ regular tones join the trumpet in glorious clustery drones and contrapuntal flashes. After a while, a clear transition from “what now?” to “still here with us” emerges from the interplay. This writer let the acoustic substance remove the mental weight of the interpretative chores, the brain autonomously recognizing the intrinsic mechanisms without intellectual effort. It’s all so familiar, the diverse colorations so beautiful to hear within the joint celebratory intent.
The essence of a departed good man entwined with those of his companions. And if the latter can handle an instrument as this trio does, it is a major plus. You see, ultramundane communication can only occur through that means.