If you’ve attempted to keep up with the news cycle in recent years, then Conundrum the title of the Alex Skolnick Trio’s new album, should be a no-brainer. “It represents the sense of confusion many of us are feeling in the midst of the strangest sociopolitical upheavals of our lifetimes,” says Skolnick, the guitarist and composer who helped define thrash metal as a founding member of Testament, before establishing himself on the international jazz scene. “This album captures many styles in an effort to channel that angst into art and inspire others to do likewise.”
Ironically, given its globally pertinent message, Conundrum is in many ways Skolnick’s most intimate record yet. It is the trio’s first new studio album since 2011’s Veritas, and it features original music almost exclusively, with six compositions by Skolnick, one apiece by bassist Nathan Peck and drummer Matt Zebroski, and a gorgeous interpretation of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1.”
Far removed from the musical tunnel vision of “guitar” or “shred” albums, Conundrum reflects Skolnick’s wide-ranging knowledge as a player and, even more important, as a listener. “What would I want to hear, regardless of the instrument and regardless of technique?” he asks. “That’s the type of music I try to create as an improviser and composer.”
The multi-layer, multi-section songs that resulted are, in a word, sweeping—and include plenty for guitar heads to dig into after all. Skolnick’s “Unbound,” part of which originated on piano, kicks off Conundrum with springy slapped harmonics. Beautiful chordal work follows, as well as soloing that lays out the guitarist’s m.o. as a lead player: to tell a story by varying his attack, tone, intensity and harmonic approach with masterful control.
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