Archive for the Alex SKOLNICK Category

Alex SKOLNICK Trio – Last Day in Paradise 2007

Posted in Alex SKOLNICK, JAZZ on December 26, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Alex SKOLNICK Trio – Last Day in Paradise 2007


Alex Skolnick is a guitar player I remember marveling about back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back in those days he was a bright shining star in the world of thrash metal, leading Testament to early success in the wake of Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer. He burst onto the scene in 1987 with The Legacy, but it was the pair of albums Practice What You Preach and Souls of Black, in 1989 and 1990 respectively, that caught my attention.

The guy was amazing, he was fast, technical, and precise. In 1993 he parted ways with the band, going on to play with Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, among others. During that time, he also got into jazz and formed the Alex Skolnick Trio, releasing their first album in 2002. Here we are, five years removed from that album, and I am getting my first taste of Skolnick’s jazz, Last Day in Paradise.

If you have read my music reviews in the past, you will know that I am a metal guy, through and through. I will make the occasional foray into other genres, but more often than not I am out of my element in writing about them, a fact that will not dissuade me from making the occasional attempt to expand my horizons. That said, I know very little about jazz and what makes some good and others bad, but I can say that I know what I like. What I like is this album.

What I find intriguing is the deftness with which Alex has shifted genres. I know that many players can play different styles, but never have I heard a guitarist leave one genre for another and create such great music in both. If I had been handed this cold, not knowin who Skolnick was, I would have liked it, probably as much as I do now, but knowing that this is a band led by a guitar player from a premiere thrash band from my youth? Well, that is a different story. This is a completely different Alex Skolnick than the one I listened to so long ago, or even the Alex Skolnick I saw during 2005’s Testament reunion tour.

Last Day in Paradise puts another facet to Skolnick’s ability, and I want to hear more! The album features seven original compositions with three jazz translations of rock tracks mixed in. The translated songs are Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” which is nearly unrecognizable during stretches before slipping into those familiar notes that we all know, next is a song the Alex co-wrote with his Testament bandmates, “Practica Lo Que Predicas (Practice What You Preach),” which is given the jazz by way of Latin treatment, finally there is the Ozzy/Randy Rhoads track “Revelation (Mother Earth).”

To steal a phrase, this album is “all killer and no filler.” It is an album that you can lay back and groove to, or listen close and listen to each of the band member’s considerable contribution. Skolnick’s playing is smooth, clean, and unlike anything I had heard of his before. He plays with an assured confidence that is not exactly flashy, but none the less fanastic to listen to. Bassist Nathan Peck lays down some great bass grooves, particularly on “The Lizard.” Finally there is drummer Matt Zebroski, who is solid and  compliments each song delivering snappy hits that are considerably different than the metal drummers I am used to hearing.

Bottomline. This is an impressive album, the complete package of musicianship and songwriting. Skolnick continues to impress after all these years. If you want something to groove to and get some impressive fretwork at the same time, this is an album to check out. I, for one, was impressed.
By Chris Beaumont.
On March 15, 2007, Alex Skolnick Trio will unleash “Last Day In Paradise” on Magnatude Records. It consists of seven original compositions along with three arrangements of hard rock ‘standards,’ (a concept upon which the trio has built a strong reputation as an instrumental group that appeals to straight-ahead jazz fans and rock fans alike). Feeling the inspiration of European jazz and other influences, the group has now gone beyond the limitations of the traditional guitar trio format on many of the songs, incorporating electronic loops (‘Last Day In Paradise’), vocal melodies (‘Mercury Retrograde’) and slide guitar (‘Western Sabbath Stomp’). There are also special effects, bowed bass tracks and other studio embellishments, resulting in their most original and cutting edge album to date. The new album also includes a Latin version of the Testament song `Practice What You Preach’ (which Alex originally co-wrote) and a live electronica inspired version of Rush classic ‘Tom Sawyer.’
01. Mercury Retrograde 4:32
02. Last Day In Paradise 4:51
03. Tom Sawyer 6:34
04. Shades of Grey 6:23
05. Practica Lo Que Predicas (Practice What You Preach) 5:16
06. The Lizard 5:17
07. Channel 4 4:26
08. Revelation (Mother Earth) 7:19
09. Out There Somewhere 4:48
10. Western Sabbath Stomp 5:23
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Alex SKOLNICK Trio – Transformation 2004

Posted in Alex SKOLNICK, JAZZ on December 23, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Alex SKOLNICK Trio –  Transformation 2004


Call me a jazz bigot. When I received Transformation by Alex Skolnick, apparently the ex-guitarist for thrash metal-heads Testament, my first thought was, “Great, another rocker trying to be a jazzer.” Things didn’t get better when I saw that Skolnick was interpreting material by Judas Priest, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Scorpions, Iron Maiden and—yes—Ronnie James Dio. Sure, plenty of serious jazz artists have approached contemporary singer/songwriters in recent years—Brad Mehldau, Charlie Hunter, even Herbie Hancock. But metal bands? I mean, really.
Well, imagine my surprise to discover Skolnick a fine jazz guitarist, completely capable of getting to the core of songs by a group of artists more associated with classic rock, and transforming them into almost unrecognizable new tunes. Unlike the Bad Plus, who are nothing less than shtick—a group whose supposed reinvention of songs by Nirvana and Black Sabbath do little to honour the originals, and even less to make them interesting and refreshing new mediums for improvisation—Skolnick and his trio of bassist Nathan Peck and drummer Matt Zebroski breathe new life into these tunes, transforming (there goes that word again) them into something fresh, while at the same time being reverential to their sources. Judas Priest could never have conceived “Electric Eye” as a lithe 7/4 romp, nor Scorpions their “Blackout” as a swinging jazz waltz, but there you go.

That Skolnick comes to jazz from rock as opposed to the other way around means that while he has a firm grasp on harmony and is capable of navigating odd meters and shifts in feel, there is a certain energy and, in particular, attitude that is missing from your typical fusion player. That’s not to say guitarists like Scott Henderson and Frank Gambale lack attitude; it’s just that there’s something different about the way that Skolnick digs into a solo, even when it’s on an abstract ballad like “Fear of Flying.” And Skolnick does this, for the most part, with a clean and warm tone that is only affected with a touch of delay, completely eschewing the typical overdriven fusion tone with the exception of a brief spot on the title track and his surprisingly swinging version of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.”

If Skolnick has any precedent in jazz, it would have to be Larry Coryell, who has blended a true rock and roll attitude with a far broader reach over the course of his career, demonstrated to great effect at this summer’s Ottawa International Jazz Festival . Like Coryell, Skolnick demonstrates that translating the energy of rock to a jazz context can be a more subtle thing, showing that you can imbue more traditional trappings of swing, modal playing and richer harmony with an edge that doesn’t spoil their essential purity. Transformation is a surprising record that succeeds on many levels and proves that it is indeed possible to shift gears mid-career and sound like you’ve been doing it all your life.
By John Kelman.
Alex Skolnick, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and at age sixteen, became lead guitarist for the metal band Testament, whom he was with for seven years and five albums, touring the world with acts such as Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and others. During that time, an exposure to Miles Davis’ music inspired him to learn jazz. After leaving Testament in 1992, Alex went on to earn a BfA from New York’s New School University where he studied with jazz legends such as Cecil McBee, Hal Galper and Richie Beirach. It was here where he met fellow student and future trio drummer Matt Zebroski. Between trio activity, Alex is a featured member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and recently recorded for their upcoming release on Lava/Atlantic Records. Earlier this year, Lamb Of God contacted Alex to say that they were longtime fans and invited him to play on their debut album for Epic Records. Composer Frank Wildhorn recently placed Alex with a 30 piece orchestra for Jeckyll ! & Hyde: The Concert, the new production of his hit Broadway show. Alex also plays with folk legend Debbie Friedman, Paris based pop/world music superstar Ishtar: The Voice Of Alabina (where he plays Spanish guitar), numerous New York based improvisational artists and when not on tour, is on staff at American Institute Of Guitar in New York City.

Straight ahead jazz mixed with heavy metal? Welcome to the world of the Alex Skolnick trio. When they first began in 2000, the idea was admittedly a bit far out: an improvisational trio doing creative arrangements of tunes by groups such as Black Sabbath. Even more unusual was the fact that this combo was led by a former speed metal guitar hero who had traded his electric guitar for a hollowbody archtop (known as a ‘jazz box’), moved to New York and studied with legendary musicians through the jazz department of New School University, where he earned his BFA. It was here where Alex hooked up with two fiery young prodigies in their early 20’s on upright bass and drums; the three began practicing composition assignments and jazz standards. Frustrated with the limitations of the jazz repertoire, Alex stumbled upon this concept one night by hearing an arrangement of a Scorpions song in a dream. Arrangements of songs by Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, the Who and others followed; the group quickly developed a following in such New York City venues as Wetlands and the Knitting Factory.
The new trio album, “Transformation” (Magnatude), represents a turning point for the band. Original compositions fill just over half the album along with new arrangements of tunes by Judas Priest, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, and more. There is some new sonic territory in the covers; from the fiery Middle Eastern section in Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” to the Latin acoustic flavor of Dio’s ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers.’ Similarly, the originals cover a wide range of styles: from Alex’s ethereal ballad ‘Fear Of Flying,’ to the surf/blues of ‘Both Feet In’ (penned by drummer Matt Zebroski) and Alex’s creative composition and title track, ‘Transformation,’ which combines a driving rock beat with jazz harmony, a rock guitar solo section and a haunting, catchy melody sung by all three members. This melody is enhanced by the cello of special guest Dave Eggar (who has recently played with such jazz greats as Michael Brecker and Dianne Reeves). Another special guest, Grammy nominee Charlie Hunter, comes aboard on his 8-string guitar/bass hybrid for Alex’s funk/jazz composition, Scorch.
Alex Skolnick– Guitars, Vocals
Nathan Peck- Bass, Vocals
Matt Zebroski– Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Special guests:
Charlie Hunter– 8 String Guitar on “Scorch”
Dave Eggar– Cello on “Transformation”
01. Transformation 5:54
02. Electric Eye 5:20
03. Fear of Flying 5:11
04. Money 5:14
05. Both Feet In 5:30
06. Scorch 7:14
07. Blackout 5:05
08. IMV – The Trooper 5:19
09. No Fly Zone 4:29
10. Don’t Talk to Strangers 5:58
11. Highway Star 6:30
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Alex SKOLNICK Trio – Goodbye To Romance: Standards For A New Generation 2002

Posted in Alex SKOLNICK, JAZZ on December 20, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Alex SKOLNICK Trio – Goodbye To Romance: Standards For A New Generation 2002


Take classic hard rock tunes from the 70s and 80s by the likes of Kiss, Scorpions, Black Sabbath and others. Rearrange them with rich harmonies and pulsating grooves of swing, funk and Latin. Throw in fiery improvisations on hollowbody guitar, double-bass and drums. What do you get? The Alex Skolnick Trio. At age eighteen, Alex Skolnick became a guitar hero with the metal band Testament. A few years and several albums later, he went on to perform and study jazz in New York, earning a music degree. Now, the worlds of metal and jazz have come together. Hear the result on “Goodbye To Romance: Standards For A New Generation.”
After playing in two of the biggest and most important metal bands (Testament and Savatage) in the world, Alex Skolnick decided it was time to move on and explore different musical textures. Alex has always been so much more than just a typical metal guitarist who can shred his heart out. Even when he was in Testament, one of the leading forces of thrash metal, his sense of melody made him stand out among any other guitar player in the genre. His bluesy and jazzy feel became an indispensable part of his musical vision and it was clear that he would have to move on to broaden his horizons.
I bought Goodbye to Romance as soon as it was released in 2002 through Alex’s independet label Skol Productions and was greatly pleased when I saw he’d taken the time to sign the CD for me. Upon reading his message in the booklet, I was even more intrigued than before. This isn’t just an average cover album of a once-metal guitarist. While Alex covers and pays tribute to lots of rock and metal classics of bands including KISS, Aerosmith, Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne, The Who and Black Sabbath, he also plays two of his own songs (“Skol Blues” and “Ofri”). Moreover the tunes sound nothing like the original versions, they are all re-worked and put into the framework of Alex’s jazzy musical direction. The song patterns are quite different (and sometimes even more interesting) and rich with variety, melody and warmth.

This project took off the ground when Alex had a dream in which he heard a very beautiful melody and had to wake up. As he couldn’t place the tune, he felt compelled to pick up his guitar and work it out, only to find the melody he’d heard was a jazzified version of Scorpions’ “No One Like You” and the rest is history. He put together a great band employing two very talented young musicians: John Graham Davies (double bass) and Matt Zebroski (drums).

Miles Davis has always been a great influence on Alex’s songwriting. This solo release also seems to follow the path opened up by Davis decades ago. The music here is unbelievably eclectic and borrows elements from rock, funk and blues. It’s an amalgam of all of these textures centred around a strong jazzy background. It’s very deeply constructed, yet it flows so naturally. The interplay between all the instruments gives the album its final shape.

The title Goodbye to Romance actually has a very special significance, because as we all know, the song “Goodbye to Romance” was a song on Ozzy’s debut album with guitar god Randy Rhoads, who was one of Alex’s idols and biggest influences. Back in the mid-90’s Alex played with Ozzy for a handful of shows in England and felt deeply honoured about playing Randy’s songs so when he decided to release his solo album he titled it after this tune. As stated in the booklet, it is commonly known that Randy was planning to eventually leave the band to pursue his classical music education, but was unable to due to his untimely passing. Alex, on the other hand, just like Randy, was bold enough to leave his rock stardom behind and went back to school for his music degree. Randy’s spirit guided him through all the way.

This is one of my favourite instrumental albums ever and I wish Alex nothing but all the best in his future career. I know it must be hard to create something like this, but if he ever gets to put another solo album I’ll be one of the first to buy it.
By Murat Batmaz.
Alex Skolnick– Guitar
Nathan Peck– Bass
Matt Zebroski– Drums, Percussion
01.Detroit Rock City 6:27
02.Dream On 5:23
03.No One Like You 7:37
04.Goodbye To Romance 7:18
05.Still Loving You 9:11
06.Skol Blues 8:25
07.Pinball Wizard 7:47
08.Ofri 6:46
09.War Pigs 10:33
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