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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2005/03/06
by Mike Gruenberg

Transformation by Alex Skolnick Trio

Approximately a year ago I interviewed Alex for my monthly column that appears on this site. At the time, Alex confided that he had just signed a new record deal and was about to go into the studio and record a new album. His first album, Goodbye to Romance: Standards For A New Generation which we discussed in the interview was comprised of rock songs made famous by such groups as Kiss, Aerosmith, Scorpions, The Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. The Alex Skolnick Trio interpreted these tunes in a progressive jazz style. The album was met with great critical praise.
Now, it’s a little more than a year later and Alex’s follow-up album has been released on the Magnatude label called Transformation. He has gone back to the same formula of reworking standard rock tunes. This time, he has used tunes from such landmark groups as Judas Priest, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. However in addition to his usual array of interpretive jazz of other peoples’ work, Alex and the group has mixed in a healthy dose of original tunes and has also invited a number of guest musicians to make this album even more appealing than the first one.
The title tune on the album, "Transformation" breaks the mold of the previous album. We are immediately treated to a tune penned by Alex that highlights his writing and guitar work. On the first album, Alex wrote two tunes. On this album, Alex and the band have written six out of the eleven songs. On "Transformation" cellist Dave Eggar blends perfectly with the trio and the right mix of background vocals, which makes this one of the most appealing songs on the album. According to the liner notes, Mr. Eggar was able to join the "Transformation" recording session prior to leaving on a tour of Japan with legendary sax player, Michael Brecker.
"Fear of Flying" also written by Alex in tribute author, Erica Jong is a moody, sentimental and reflective piece that is the perfect antidote to a busy day. You simply have to be calm after listening to this tune. It is one of the highlights of the album.
The group then launches into the Roger Waters tune; "Money" made famous by Pink Floyd. Using all his guitar skills, Alex and the group do not disappoint on this jazz version of the rock masterpiece.
Just when you think that you’ve figured out this album, Alex throws a curve by including the blues oriented "Both Feet In" written by drummer, Matt Zebroskie. Alex’s blues riffs would make any blues man listen with envy.
Alex has always referred to The Scorpions as having a profound influence on him. On the "Goodbye To Romance" album, he interpreted two tunes by the German group. On this album, the Scorpions are once again represented by including "Blackout."

The beauty of the Transformation album is in its ability to showcase all the members of the group. Whether it’s Matt Zebroskie prominently featured on "Electric Eye" or Nathan Peck’s bass on "Blackout" or the flawless guitar work by Alex, all three members seamlessly play together as one. While I like their first album, I find that this one has a quiet elegance to it. It seems to me that the group had more time to craft this album and as a result produced a more polished product. Furthermore, I like the fact that they invited guest musicians to accompany them. By taking charge and writing more originals tunes on this album than the first offering, the group has been able to grow exponentially. I look forward to their next album.

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