Most of those familiar with guitarist Alex Skolnick know of him through Testament, the thrash-metal band with which he’s played for two extended spells, 1983-93 and then again from 2005 to the present. He’s long lived another life, though, leading his own jazz-rooted trio with bassist Nathan Peck and drummer Matt Zebroski. Conundrum is their first release in seven years.
The most noticeable new wrinkle is in the content. Where the band’s earlier recordings each contained covers of tunes by well-known (mostly) metal/hard-rock bands, Conundrum features only one non-original composition among its nine tracks, and it’s Erik Satie’s 19th-century “Gymnopédie No. 1.” Skolnick and the trio play it straight, too—there’s no attempt to rock it up or mask its sensitive structure. With Skolnick playing acoustic, Zebroski using his brushes, and Peck going easy on bass, the recognizable melody is given a respectful treatment in an arrangement that only slightly embellishes on the dynamics built into the tune.