Have you ever been to jazz club that is in the basement of a Pizza Express? Have you ever been to a jazz show where audience members proudly donned Judas Priest and Megadeth shirts? I have, and it was great!
The occasion where these worlds met was, or course, the Alex Skolnick Trio gig at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. The band consists of Alex Skolnick (on guitar), Nathan Peck (on bass), and Matt Zebroski (on drums).
I was very much looking forward to attending the show, due the fact that as a PhD student, I don’t get out much. Accompanying me to the performance was my colleague Peter Braga, whose thesis work studies the political economic relations between China, Belarus, and Ukraine. Peter is also a former professional guitarist (whose background lies in punk and hardcore), having toured and completed two studio albums with one of his bands before becoming a University student full time. I should also add that when I teased Peter for not studying metal music after the show, Alex Skolnick told him that his thesis work was also important, indicating that Alex finds value in a variety of academic pursuits. Peter and I attended the second of the two shows that the Alex Skolnick Trio played that evening, as I was working and had to miss the first one because of the timing of my shift.
The venue itself was an experience. As you descended the staircase from the restaurant upstairs, you entered a different world. Alex also took some of his time to catch up with me briefly before the show, literally as he was walking to the stage. I have worked in professional sports before, and through that, have met many individuals who have some semblance of fame. Alex remains, to this day, not only one of the most talented, but nicest famous individuals that I have ever come into contact with. To me, Alex Skolnick rocks not only because he is one of the world’s best guitarists. Alex rocks because he always takes 15 minutes of his time to chat with me, a socially awkward PhD student studying metal music, no matter what the context may be. This graciousness was also exhibited by the rest of the members of Alex Skolnick Trio. Even though Alex, Nathan, and Matt played two sets that night, they still hung out at the merch table after the show, interacted with fans, signed, and took photographs. They are authentic (a concept discussed thoroughly in metal music academia), and genuine.
The gig itself was phenomenal, and can be viewed as a case study in technical skill. One of my favorite pieces by the Alex Skolnick Trio, ‘Culture Shock’, (a hybridized tune that consists of guitar melodies from the Southern United States and Middle East) was played right at the beginning, which was a real treat. Alex also acknowledged the fact that many of the audience members may also be metalheads, by saying:
‘There are many styles of guitar, I’m probably best known for heavy metal. When we started this project, we thought, what if we took a hard rock or heavy metal tune and made an arrangement of that?’
Alex played several of these arrangements during the set, including a jazz arrangement of ‘Dream On’, by Aerosmith, ‘(Revelation) Mother Earth’, by Ozzy Osbourne, and a Jon Ward Deep Purple tribute. A funky tribute to Prince was also included in this gig, which was a delight to listen to.
Another highlight of the show was seeing London’s own Yolanda Charles join the Alex Skolnick Trio onstage, and play the blues.
The variety in musical styles and influences played by the Alex Skolnick Trio was like a breath of fresh air. The Alex Skolnick Trio are an innovative group, who smash the artistic expectations of others: they did not limit themselves to playing solely jazz, or solely jazz arrangements of metal: instead, they combined a multitude of styles and techniques masterfully. Peter, a fellow PhD student at SSEES, agreed, saying:
‘I was impressed. I liked the relaxed feel, and he (Alex) managed to combine a multitude of styles and influences without being cheesy, which can often happen when you’re too adventurous with mixing styles.’
If you want to see a show hallmarked by virtuosity and variety, I highly recommend seeing the Alex Skolnick Trio live. Seeing the Alex Skolnick Trio play is an experience that I know I will never forget.