Hi everyone! Hope your Summer is going great. Let’s just do a quick recap of fun things that have been happening ok? Great! First off…. (SOUND OF TURNTABLE CARTRIDGE SCRATCHING ACROSS A RECORD):
Alright, unless you’re totally new to me, my music and my musings (then in that case, in all seriousness…welcome), you probably realize the opening sentence is total bullshit. It’s not as though I don’t hope you’ve had a good Summer. I really do. And it’s not that mine hasn’t had stellar moments. It has. Yet, for better or for worse, I’m someone who can’t help but be honest about things. This is one reason I’m an artist – thank goodness – as I would never survive in a corporate environment, or any other occupation that required constant sucking up and sucking it in. Sometimes this makes me a somewhat controversial figure on social media (see last year’s final update). If you’re someone who wishes for the musicians and other artists you follow to be people-pleasers and avoid saying how they really feel, please feel free to move along – no hard feelings but that’s just not me. There are plenty who talk a lot while saying very little and smile like a toothpaste commercial. (WARNING: IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE WHO YOU THINK MUSICIANS OUGHT TO JUST “STICK TO MUSIC” PLEASE SKIP THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH. OR JUST READ ITS LAST SENTENCE). I was initially more focused on the many losses that have taken place than I was about current events. I can only describe this year so far as one that defies reality. Never in my imagination did I think that a scenario like that depicted by George Orwell’s novel “1984” (which inspired my lyrics for a little tune called “The New Order”) would become true, with people believing up is down and vice versa. When confronted with irrefutable evidence, they say “That’s fake!” or they accuse ME or those who think like me of being brainwashed. I have a lot to say which I’m saving for separate writings. For now, just this: If you’re going to defend White Supremacy, defend those who defend it (including the bigotry defender-in chief), or if you’re going to tell me not to express my views as some continue to do (this truly baffles the mind), then please do us both a favor: Unfollow me, unsubscribe to my newsletters, don’t listen to my music and – I only ask that you please go away (and take this abomination some call a President with you). No harm, no foul, OK? Good.
Now back to other things. Here was the original source of the current mood: it’s getting really tiresome posting tributes to musicians we’ve lost (in 2017). Of course, there have been sad losses every year, many of which pre-date social media (I can recall as a pre-teen being devastated by the loss of Randy Rhoads) and yes, musicians aren’t the only ones who seem to be checking out disproportionally. That said, I’d imagine most would agree that 2016 was staggering in terms of loss to the music world, and so far, 2017 has been like a grim sequel.
During the writing of this, no less, comes news of the passing of a great early 60s studio guitar whiz who went on to create towering hit songs that were crafty, heartfelt and well-played by him and his former session cohorts (who are all brilliantly captured in this must-see-film). At least Glen Campbell, although tragically plagued with Alzheimer’s during his final years, lived to be an octogenarian, which is a pretty good run by most standards, especially that of musicians (as I type, I’m listening and rediscovering his classic album “Gentle On My Mind”). And while seventy is considered “young,” these days as far as death is concerned, those who knew Gregg Allman agree that given his hard living past, he was quite lucky to make it that far (he’d even said so himself). Sixty, by today’s standards is too young to leave, yet Paul O’Neil, the mastermind behind Trans-Siberian Orchestra had only recently entered the decade. This loss was especially felt, since this was someone I knew personally, had a big impact on my own life and so many others he brought into the “family.” My tribute here. And I’m still processing the loss of Dave Z, who was a great friend and finally on a path to better bass recognition. I still intend to write a proper tribute, but for now, there’s this post and reply. A few months before, a good friend of both of ours, guitar tech Kyle Sable, lost his life. Although Kyle’s death seemed to come out of nowhere, it was hard to ignore that he’d been in and out of the hospital and had reached a point where a good number of his friends (myself included) were urging him to please take better care of himself. On the other hand, Dave was not yet forty, enviably physically fit, didn’t even drink, never smoked and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, which made it all the more shocking. I don’t mean to skip over Chester Benington – who had made his forties but not by much – but I didn’t know him personally and sorry to say, couldn’t name a song. (Disclaimer: Linkin Park emerged in the early 00s, a period where I was on my “jazz sabbatical” and had a few years in which my world was all about Scofield, Martino, Montgomery, Metheny etc), however, I’ve heard nothing but kind words from those who knew Chester and he was clearly admired by millions. And of course, there was Chris Cornell, in his early fifties but eternally youthful (one could imagine a future in which Cornell would reach an Iggy Pop-like agelessness). When I heard about each of these two guys, who seemed to have it all both professionally and personally, I could only think of my friend and neighbor – whose writing was being embraced by Hollywood and had a young family – yet he became a fatal victim of his own depression at just thirty-two, the writer Ned Vizzini.
OK! On to music…
Since I last checked in (six months ago, how did that happen?), it’s been a packed year.
JANUARY: My first show of the year was at LA’s little but legendary instrumental hub, The Baked Potato, in a trio with bass whiz Stu Hamm and Gogol Borlai (drummer for Tribal Tech, Scott Kinsai and others). Stu tends to get pigeonholed with his associates like Satriani, Vai or Howe (with whom he’s on tour as I write this), but his music is much broader and more diverse than that. For me, it represents a perfect middle ground between the more chord melody based acoustic jazz guitar I play with AST and the screaming leads of Testament. Whereas AST allows me to connect with Scofield , Montgomery, Metheny etc. while Testament allows me to connect with EVH, Rhoads, Blackmore etc, the music I’m doing with Stu allows me to bring out electric jazz/rock influences such as Jeff Beck and Allan Holdsworth. While it’s been a real treat to be working with Stu again after all these years (he was my first gig in the early 90s outside the metal bubble), reuniting as much more developed musicians on both our parts, it is a mild frustration on both our parts that no formal recording exists which captures us playing together. However, we have talked about changing this scenario. It is talk at this point, but real enough that I’m comfortable sharing. Expect an update on this sooner than later. January was capped by the annual trip to NAMM, where I had fun doing solo performances and clinics for ESP Guitars, Seymour Duncan Pickups and more. There was also a blowout evening nearby, a performance of Metal Allegiance with all-star lineup including names like Sheehan, Friedman, Appice and many, many more. The “core four” of MA, myself, Portnoy, Ellefson and Mengi, had already taken a few days in to begin writing the follow up to our debut album, and we’ve been jumping into the studio here and there throughout the year to work on the new album, which is to be complete this year and released in 2018.
FEBRUARY: A trip to Japan with Testament. It is always great to go the far corners of the Earth and visit our Japanese friends. Here is an interview I did at one of my favorite music stores, Ishibashi Music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOJD_fWhUd0&t=349s. Upon returning, I worked with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while, Israeli saxophonist (and my fellow New School student). Warning: this is not metal. It is MELLOW – it’s more contempary jazz, a bit Pat Metheny Group- like. It was great to reconnect, work on some music and film this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvbU8VwlsYU
MARCH: For the entire month, AST did a full tour of Western Europe, our most extensive yet. There is a fast growing crowd of listeners, many of whom were unfamiliar with me until recently. Some are even apologetic about that, which is unnecessary. While I’m thankful for every fan who comes to our shows based my prior work (and which they may have air-guitared or moshed to), it is especially humbling to be receiving new who are simply drawn to this new music they are hearing. Highlights included legendary jazz venues such as the Blue Note club in Milan, a return to Agharta in Prague CZ and playing cities for the first time such as Copenhagen, Rome and Budapest. Speaking of which, the show in Budapest was filmed and we’re planning a live DVD. In the meantime, a few songs have been released on YouTube, here are a couple:
APRIL/MAY: No sooner had I returned from AST’s extensive tour of Europe when it was time to pack for the next leg of Testament’s tour, this time with our good friends Sepultura and Prong. We began in Albuquerque, NM, headed East through Texas and New Orleans and down to Florida (I know we don’t visit there often enough, hope that satisfies our Floridian friends for the time being). Then it was up the East Coast to Montreal, a few shows in Canada, then the Midwest, eventually Vancouver and down the West Coast of the US. All in all, 34 shows, wrapping up in Las Vegas at – ironically enough – the Vegas imprint of my local venue, Brooklyn Bowl, the day before flying home to Brooklyn. There were about ten days left in May but they’re largely a blur since – having never properly rested up from the March AST tour – it was great to take the rest of the month hibernation/recharging.
JUNE: During the previous month, I’d learned that despite his unfortunate passing (as mentioned earlier), the New York date of Allan Holdsworth’s tour was being held at The Iridium. This way his band (including longtime associates Virgil Donati on drums, Steve Hunt on keys and new bassist Evan Marien) could play a tribute. The idea – I was told by phone – was to feature three or four other guitarists hand selected to fill in for the master and…might I be interested in being one the guitarists to fill in? What does one say? Since the guitar lineup ended up being myself along with Alex Machacek, Tim Miller, Nir Felder, obviously the answer was “yes,” but with trepidation. For those that don’t understand, Allan Holdsworth was one of a kind – a jedi master- like figure of guitar, of whom countless guitarists (EVH, Satriani, Scott Henderson and Jimmy Herring) to name just a few, would not play like they do had it not been for him There is a wave of emotion that one goes through when receiving a phone call like this. From self-doubt and denial to fierce determination, from sadness of the situation (loss of a great artist) to humility and gratitude that in light of circumstances, what an incredible honor to be bestowed (“Better than a Grammy” as one professional associate put it). For most of May, my preshow warmups consisted of dissecting Holdsworthian chord shapes, analyzing the pros and cons of using one fingering versus another, practicing soloing over various changes from his songs and picking out a few reference licks. For most of June, I had my nose to the grind, revisiting Allan’s music – much of which I’d listened to but had never felt ready to dive into on a professional level. Well, with the Holdsworth gigs fast approaching (three nights beginning July 5th) there was no turning back now! Fortunately, June was already scheduled to be a big month of instrumental, jazz/rock appearances including House of Waters (my Planetary Coalition cohorts who are seriously picking up steam, touring with the likes of Snarky Puppy), Jane Getter Premonition, and a residency at Iridium with Stu and drummer Chad Wackerman. Chad did me the favor of jamming some of the Holdsworth stuff during soundcheck, while our show had already included a Holdsworth moment. All of this helped with preparation.
JULY: I’m not sure how many others spent July 4th weekend glued to Allen Holdsworth charts and recordings (actually, I am – three: my colleagues Nir, Tim and Alex M!), but with each passing day, I felt better. Here’s a video of me practicing. And when the first show finally took place, on July 5th, I equated it to the activity of Firewalking (one of popular lifestyle guru Tony Robbins’ fear-conquering activities). I’ve never Firewalked but the sense of relief and empowerment I felt after my first song went well kept bringing to mind the testimonials of those who have. In the end, I ended up playing three of the four tunes with improvised solos (Red Alert and ProtoCosmos, both by Tony Williams New Lifetime and Letters of Marque from Allan Holdsworth’s I.O.U.). The other one, Metal Fatigue (it was picked for me and not – I’m told – because I’m the one player who also does metal), was the one tune I felt needed to played as on the album. Not doing so would be like playing Hendrix’s “Little Wing”and skipping his signature lines. Here is us live doing Metal Fatigue.
In between there have been various odds and ends, from sitting in with the comedic Bee Gees/metal (no kidding) tribute “Tragedy” to speaking for a nationwide conference of public school music teachers for the Non-Profit music-ed program Little Kids Rock in Colorado at the end of July.
Which brings us to August. I’m currently in Latin America doing a couple weeks with Testament. I’m hard at work writing material for AST’s next studio album, to be recorded in October. Just before heading into the studio, we’ll be road-testing ourselves with a mini-tour of the East Coast. You can catch us at any of these locations:
ALEX SKOLNICK TRIO
Unbound Tour 2017
OCT 2 2017 US-NY-New York, Iridium
OCT 4 2017 US-MA-Cambridge, Regattabar
OCT 5 .2017 US-NY-Rochester, Montage Music Hall
OCT 6 .2017 US-NY-Schenectady, Van Dyck
OCT 7 2017 US-PA-New Hope, Havana
There will also be an extensive tour of the West Coast in January, AST’s first visit there in quite some time, so West Coasters, please stay tuned for those dates.
Before then, folks in Europe can catch Testament in November and December and viewing dates here: http://www.testamentlegions.com/site/#tourdates.
That’s it for now. Thank you as always for listening and there is much more exciting news to be shared soon…