Live jazz with a chunk of rock thrown in – Nice.
Review by Jason Guest
Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick, for those who may not be aware, has a jazz trio. Yes he does. And good they are. Very good in fact. Four albums to their name, their first two albums – 2002’s Goodbye to Romance: Standards for a New Generation and 2004’s Transformation – focussed for the main on jazz interpretations of rock and metal classics, everyone from The Who, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple through Kiss, Aerosmith, Scorpions and Judas Priest to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden getting the Alex Skolnick Trio treatment. Rush, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica and his other band – Testament, in case you forgot – have been given special treatment on the 2007’s Last Day in Paradise and 2011’s Veritas with original material by the band being given more attention.
What is apparent across the four albums is Skolnick and co.’s ability to craft compelling interpretations of some of the heaviest music known to man and some impressive original material. With a distinct feel for the musical opportunities that a melody and a song proffer, what we have is a trio that functions as a unit, one that abandons itself to the music and gives it space to breathe. And Live Unbound, the band’s first live album, that synchronicity that has developed over the band’s career is self-evident.
The first two tracks – ‘Unbound’ and ‘Culture Shock’ – are new and here can be heard the development of their compositional and improvisational skills. Taking their time to explore and develop the tracks, it’s clear that there’s no “band leader”, that this is not just an excuse for Skolnick to show off his remarkable guitar skills. Though drummer Matt Zebroski and upright bassist Nathan Peck bring the grooves and fulfil the role of rhythm section, it’s the three of them that make the music, the three of them that makes the band. And together, though they may be showing off their undeniable individual and collective skills, it’s the music that matters.
With ‘Shades of Grey’ (from 2007’s …Paradise) and ‘99/09’ and ‘Veritas’ (from 2011’s Veritas), though they are great on the original albums, here, the band play them with a distinct drive and passion that’s near tangible. And the versions of Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’ and Scorpions’ ‘Still Lovin’ You’ are exceptional, almost as good as the improvised blues that closes out the album. Live is where jazz is. Live is where song and band and audience come together. Throw in a chunk of rock and you’ve got the Alex Skolnick Trio. Where their four studio albums prove them to be a great band on record, this album proves them to be a great live band.
9 out of 10
- Culture Shock
- Shades of Grey
- Dream On
- Still Lovin’ You