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Alex Skolnick: Transformation

Andrey Henkin By

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Despite his best efforts, guitarist Alex Skolnick remains a novelty in the exclusive jazz community. Why he should care though is another question, given that as a thrash metal guitarist, he probably sold more records than Miles Davis. His decision to be reborn as a jazz player has been well documented, as has his movement to create a new set of standards based on the hard rock oeuvre. His second album continues this effort with the inclusion of material by Judas Priest, Pink Floyd, Scorpions, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple. Also in the mix are several originals and guest appearances by fellow guitarist Charlie Hunter and cellist Dave Eggar.

Comparisons have been made to fusion players when discussing Skolnick, primarily because he is so comfortable playing quickly. Listening to his dark tones, though, he is far closer to Pat Martino than Larry Coryell. And despite his unorthodox material, his approach is very straightforward and lacks the sheer excesses of fusion guitar. Except for one thrillingly distorted solo at the end of a punchy "Highway Star," Skolnick prefers an unaffected tone and traditional chord voicings.

Skolnick's strength in the nascent part of his jazz career is as an arranger. Those who aren't familiar with '80s metal staples like "Electric Eye" or "The Trooper" may be hard pressed to imagine them in their original forms. These are not kitschy interpretations either (like almost every Beatles cover done in jazz's history). He has taken great care to reconcile the two disparate styles and create a successful synthesis with the energy of one and the intelligence of the other.

His original style is still developing. There is a sense that he is writing music that he feels is jazz rather than music that is truly his and then masterfully arranged into a jazz format. The exception is "Scorch," which features Hunter and is an extended funky romp that is the closest Skolnick comes to fusion on the disc. Though he has studied jazz forms, his ballads come off with more of a rock sensibility.

Probably the best thing that Skolnick could do for himself at this point is to begin playing with some of the bigger straight-ahead jazz names in order to hone his craft with experienced musicians. A trio with, say, James Genus and Joe Farnsworth—guys who could match his speed—and more exploration towards avant-garde forms (like Gateway for example) would stop talk about where he came from and replace it with excitement about where he is going. Or he could hire the old bassist and drummer from Testament and teach them some jazz licks.

Track Listing: Transformation; Electric Eye; Fear Of Flying; Money; Both Feet In; Scorch; Blackout; IMV / The Trooper; No Fly Zone; Don't Talk To Strangers; Highway Star.

Title: Transformation | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Magnatude Records

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