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Night and Day: Jazz Meets Heavy Metal

The two styles may seem worlds apart at first, but for musicians, the dots between them are ripe for connecting

Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo (photo: Jeff Yeager)

The Winter NAMM tradeshow, one of the musical-instrument industry’s foremost annual events, accommodates a world’s worth of different music and musicians each year in Anaheim, Calif. But the most audible—and visible—demographic is by far the heavy metal set; Los Angeles, which in the world of commercial hard rock is analogous to New York for jazz musicians or Nashville for country-and-western players, is about 30 miles north. Spend a few hours at NAMM and you’ll not only get a crash-course in metal’s Melrose Avenue aesthetic—the paler the skin, the darker the clothes—you might also rub elbows with some of the music’s heroes: musicians from bands with names like Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and, in the case of guitarist Alex Skolnick, Testament.

In January, Skolnick played a post-tradeshow set in the lobby of a nearby hotel, but thrash-metal—the taut, speedy metal variation Testament helped define—wasn’t on the program. Instead, Skolnick donned a hollowbody and led his working trio through music that would have been received warmly 2,500 miles away in the West Village. Instead of shred-guitar instrumentals or hard blues, Skolnick applied elements any reader of this magazine should appreciate—a cool, transparent timbre; deep pockets of groove; harmonically astute single-note lines—to uncommon repertory choices. “Still Loving You,” by the German heavy metal band Scorpions, seemed to be filtered through Jim Hall, and an interpretation of “Detroit Rock City,” by Kiss, arrived with walking bass and postbop swing. Like the original music on Skolnick’s recent Veritas album, it was primarily forward-looking jazz music—not even fusion, really—and the many metalheads in the house ate it up.

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Originally Published

Evan Haga

Evan Haga worked as an editor and writer at JazzTimes from 2006 to 2018. He is currently the Jazz Curator at TIDAL, and his writing has appeared at RollingStone.com, NPR MusicBillboard and other outlets.