The guitarist of a marquee thrash metal band walks with a jazz drummer and standing bassist into a bar . . .
Those looking for a punchline Thursday night at Fitzgerald's witnessed, and received, something entirely different. The Alex Skolnick Trio, led by one of the lead guitarists of California Bay Area thrash titans Testament, delighted an intimate and mostly seated audience that knows Skolnick from his many years of raging with frenetic fretboard precision in Testament ever since he joined the band as a teenager on 1987 debut album The Legacy. Continuing to showcase his marksmanship through mainstay records The New Order, Practice What You Preach, Souls of Black and The Ritual up to 1992, the protege of Joe Satriani's found another calling when Skolnick left Testament in the mid-'90s before returning in 2005.
Although many of those in attendance at Fitzgerald's likely saw him two months prior at Freeman Coliseum as part of Testament supporting Slayer on its final North American tour (coverage here), it's that jazz mode mood in which Skolnick finds himself throughout a five-city Texas run of dates that will bring the Trio to Austin tonight at The North Door (tickets here). Not to be outdone, standing bassist Nathan Peck and drummer Matt Zebroski joined Skolnick in graciously going Into the Pit with Alamo True Metal prior to taking the stage with local acoustic duo Jyrokill -- comprised of Jessikill vocalist Jessica Alejo and guitarist Jyro Alejo -- supporting (see slideshow below).
The Alex Skolnick Trio released Conundrum on Sept. 7, its first studio album of all-original material since 2011's Veritas. Among the new tunes offered at Fitzgerald's were openers "Unbound" and "Culture Shock" (ATM Facebook Live footage here). With Peck strumming away on the low end of the standing bass, Skolnick showed his softer and calmer side of the instrument on "Django Tango" (ATM footage here). Among the covers the Trio played were tributes to Stevie Ray Vaughan plus tunes from their previous records such as Aerosmith's "Dream On" and a "99/09" dedication to Prince.
And since you're wondering . . . even though the Trio has been known to play an interpretation of Metallica's "Fade to Black," no, they did not perform jazz renditions of any Testament tunes.
There are no saxophones, trumpets or trombones as part of the Trio's ensemble. That contributed to what was often a much more rockin' version of a jazz concert than those seeing the Trio for the first time may have anticipated. While Skolnick assured, "I still love playing loud, screaming guitar" -- just in case some didn't catch Testament at the Freeman on Aug. 15 -- he also showed that a jazz concert doesn't have to be 100 percent brooding or moody. On the contrary, Skolnick, Peck and Zebroski demonstrated that the Alex Skolnick Trio isn't as far removed from Skolnick's works with Testament as one might think. They merely showcase different sides to be appreciated of one of metal's largely underappreciated axemen, backed by a pair of mates who aren't exactly slouches and have proven as much with Skolnick for 15 years.
Watch Part 1 of our chat by clicking the video box below as Skolnick, Zebroski and Peck discuss all things Trio, Testament and more, with Part 2 that includes some blasts of Skolnick's past and somewhat unknown facets of his present here. Then watch the AST end its performance with a 20-minute jazzed-up version of Scorpions' "Still Loving You" here.
Jyrokill wasn't above expressing its penchant for, and talent of covering, its heroes as well. The pair paid homage largely to Ronnie James Dio with "Children of the Sea," "Holy Diver," "Heaven and Hell" and "Neon Knights" meshing with offerings of "Diamonds and Rust" and Foreigner's "Double Vision." The recently married couple showed they could rock in chairs decades before they find themselves in rocking chairs. A further example was their lone original of the night, "Run and Hide" from Jessikill's 2018 debut full-length Another World, along with a splendid, rarely heard version of Yngwie Malmsteen's "I Am A Viking" since they are also in the Malmsteen/Dio tribute band Sacred Star.
With arguably San Antonio's most regarded guitarist Ron Jarzombek on hand, Thursday night at Fitzgerald's was a chance to relish guitar talent local and abroad of various styles and genres. It proved that even if you temporarily take the electric out of the guitarist and replace it with jazz, blues or acoustics, you can't completely take the metal out of a foundation that bleeds throughout their six-string souls.