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Alex Skolnick (c) Alex SkolnickHaving made a name for himself in the late ’80s and early ’90s as one of metal’s most gifted guitarists, Alex Skolnick’s career took an abrupt left turn when he departed the San Francisco-based thrashers, Testament, in late 1992 and refocused his energies on studying jazz.

By the late 1990s, Skolnick had relocated from the Bay Area to NYC, where he earned a BFA in jazz performance from Manhattan’s New School University and formed the Alex Skolnick Trio with Matt Zebroski on drums and Nathan Peck [who replaced original member, John Graham-Davis] on bass. The group has since been raising eyebrows – both for Skolnick’s fluid, melodic (and amazingly fast) fretwork, as well as the trio’s unique concept of rearranging hard rock and metal songs as jazz pieces. Just as pop classics from the past century were seamlessly absorbed into the jazz canon and have now become standards, the Alex Skolnick Trio is now convincingly re-contextualizing tracks by the likes of Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Rush, and others.

1. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

“There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect album,’ but this arguably gets as close to perfection as possible. It’s one of those recordings that’s so hard not to like – an amazing record that has the power to really change your state of mind.”

 

2. Electric Ladyland -Jimi Hendrix Experience

“That was one I admittedly bought because, as a music fan – and particularly as a guitarist – you’re ‘supposed to’ have it. I was very young, still in my very formative stages of learning guitar, and when I started listening to this album I began to pick up on Hendrix’ sense of feel. That had an almost immediate, positive impact on my playing.”

3. Question and Answer – Pat Metheny

“I had heard some of the Pat Metheny Group’s recordings and it all struck me as very pleasant sounding music, but just didn’t grab me. When I heard Question and Answer, it knocked me out. It was obviously jazz, but it the music had this energy that I hadn’t felt from acoustic, straight-ahead jazz guitar before. I’ve since become a huge fan of so much of Pat’s work.”

4. Elegant Gypsy – Al di Miola

“In the jazz guitar community, Al’s name doesn’t always come up as a ‘jazz guitarist.’ He seems to have more of a reputation amongst World music fans, but I think he’s just amazing and this album really helped me develop my technique and speed. It also got me into World music influences.He did a great duet with Paco de Lucia on this album: ‘Mediterranean Sundance.’” 

 

5. Now He Sings, Now He Sobs – Chick Corea

“That was another instance, similar to Question and Answer, where I’d heard of Chick Corea, but his music hadn’t made a huge impact – mostly I’d been exposed to his electric band work and some of his more pop-oriented recordings. This album just connected with me so much more than the fusion stuff. I think it’s because his playing seems to come through a lot more forcefully. Chick Corea on acoustic piano – that’s the way to hear him. It’s like seeing ‘Star Wars’ on the big screen compared to watching the movie on television, or something [laughs]. Interestingly Roy Haynes, who plays on Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, was also the drummer on Question and Answer, so that probably has something to do with it. Haynes helps bring out an exciting dynamic.”

 

6. My Favorite Things – John Coltrane

“My Favorite Things is one of those discs that I heard when I wasn’t very knowledgeable about jazz and, similar to Kind of Blue, it just changes your state of mind. Also, it’s not just Coltrane; it’s the whole band. That album is an example of a truly great ensemble. Some jazz albums are made up of a leader and sidemen, but My Favorite Things really feels like a band. McCoy Tyner [piano] is such a big part of that, of course.”

 

7.Sunday at the Village Vanguard – Bill Evans Trio

“Bill Evans was also somebody I checked out because, again, you’re ‘supposed to’ like him. The first time I heard him it sounded like pleasant piano music, but it really grew on me. Every few months I would put on this album and, finally, there was one point where I was listening to it and I felt like I was on a rollercoaster – it really took me on a journey. I had a conversation with [pianist] Richie Beirach about this and he completely understood. He compared discovering Bill’s music for the first time to taking your first sip of a great scotch – it’s something that you grow to understand and appreciate.”

8.Van Halen – Van Halen

“This is my favorite Van Halen record. At that point in Eddie Van Halen’s career he really was pushing the boundaries of the instrument. I think people kind of forget how innovative and important he was, too, because the band played fun, party music that was also very ‘of its time,’ so it can seem dated. However, the level of musicality is extremely high. I can say, having studied and transcribed some of the great jazz artists, that I consider the work Eddie was doing at that time to be at a similar level of genius.”

 

9. Diary of a Madman – Ozzy Osbourne

“Randy Rhoads was a big influence, just as Eddie Van Halen was, in that it was great to learn his solos. More than that, though, I think he was on his way to developing much further. He loved classical music and eventually wanted to go to school to seriously study music. When I did just that after being in a heavy metal band, Rhoads was my guiding light in a lot of ways. I consider him to be one of the most influential people in my own growth as a musician. The other thing is: we were just talking about the Bill Evans Trio and I sometimes compare the loss of Randy Rhodes to the loss of [bassist] Scott LaFaro. Both were amazingly innovative performers who were such defining parts of their groups, both had this tragic death at a similar ages, and the losses of both had resounding impact.”

10.Don’t Try This at Home – Michael Brecker

“I heard this album on NPR after it came out and I just said, ‘What on earth is that?’ It was the song, ‘Itsbynne Reel’ where Brecker basically does an Irish-style reel, a Celtic reel, on an EWI [Electronic Wind Instrument]. It just kicked my butt; I’d never heard anything like it. It was the first time that I really connected with the concept of outside harmony in jazz.”

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