In a time when the accessibility and affordability of DJ gear, samplers and drum machines has made every kid with a laptop some kind of “producer,” Jason Panucci is something of a godfather. As keyboardist and leader of the Fat Buckle Trio, Panucci brings a brand of analog musicality to his beat production—performed under the name PJ Katz—that’s the missing x-factor for anyone who’s learning to chop and quantize according to YouTube tutorials.
Since releasing ’92 Renault Music in 2012, Panucci has become the beatsmith de jour for local hip-hop label Pig Food Records, providing tracks for artists like Giant Gorilla Dog Thing, elsphinx, Grizzly Grimace and Benn Grim, and his ongoing Ear Food series goes to show he’s sitting on drives full of material. The 23-track second volume of the project plays a bit like a really good chinese buffet. You get a little taste of everything in minute-and-a-half bites, will leave full and likely spend the rest of the day digesting. On the one hand, some of the material feels incomplete, each track providing a sketch of what might be fleshed out in the capable hands of his label’s MCs, yet the sequencing is impeccable with segues that make the collection function like a live DJ set.
While the styles vary widely track-to-track (“Here’s one that kind of rocks a little bit more,” a sampled woman’s voice announces at the start of “Which Way”), it’s all built on a bed of vinyl drum breaks and tasty soul samples. He’ll deepen a kick drum here and sharpen a snare there, but for the most part, this volume is for the crate diggers. Indeed, Ear Food might be regarded as PJ Katz’s Donuts, full of the production style and food references that have become synonymous with J Dilla. Madlib’s catalog and MF Doom’s production work for Mm..Food were likely in his listening diet at the time as well. There’s a propensity in this work to let a sample breath without necessarily making the source apparent, with the notable exception of “Just Dream,” which uses long excerpts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. (Jay: Give Paul Rapp a call if the King Estate comes knocking.) On top of all this, Panucci has sprinkled a bit of his own keyboard work and even a few vocal hooks, notably on the opening track “My Own Head,” featuring the Chronicles’ Bryan Brundige on Vocoder.
Taken in one sitting, Ear Food: Vol. 2 is a generous meal that proves just as nourishing reheated for lunch the following day.