Alex Skolnick once played lead guitar for Testament, a thrash band that specializes in strange chord progressions and time changes, along with the usual black-metal spookiness. When he's wasn't titillating Midwestern teens in black concert T-shirts, Skolnick wrote advice columns for the major rock-guitar monthlies (he's still writing for Guitar after more than five years now).
So Skolnick, like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, is a worshiped guitar-wanker capable of wringing extra-fast arpeggios from his instrument and a teacher of young axmen who want to sound like their rock-star heroes.
Tiring of the look-how-fast-I-can-play game, Skolnick leapt into the deeper seas of jazz about ten years ago and got a serious haircut, too (you can still make out that skunk-stripe of gray hair near the front of his jet-black 'do, though).
The Alex Skolnick Trio, however, doesn't exactly sit on stools and meander through "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat." They do jazz versions of such heavy-metal classics as Kiss' "Detroit Rock City," Aerosmith's "Dream On," the Scorpions' "No One Like You" and Black Sabbath's "War Pigs."
It's difficult to imagine what happens when you put a Scorps song on the conveyor belt and run it through the jazz machine. The result is a mellow, pretty bossa nova (!!) that turns those guitar power chords into bright reverb-inflected notes. Between those repetitive chords, Skolnick fills the space with heartful jazz noodlings that somehow manage to turn arena rock into smoky, underground jazz-club fare. In the words of a writer for Jazziz, "Yes, here a former metalhead is reborn as a heady jazz guitarist in the Metheny-Scofield mold" (8 p.m., $12-$14, Pop's, 1403 Mississippi Avenue in Sauget, 314-241-1888). -- Byron Kerman
Henry Looks a Little Stiff
Do you ever wake up in a cold sweat, filled with dreadful certainty that if your trivia crown were at stake, you could not identify a photograph of Henry Shaw without divine Providence aiding you? We thought so. By all means, get to the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard, 314-577-9400) to celebrate what would have been Henry Shaw's 203rd birthday. Admission is free, there will be Victorian entertainments (including an organ grinder, a stiltwalker and free cookies) and a cardboard cutout of Henry Shaw (the Henry Shaw impersonator is on assignment this year). Study this image! Memorize his visage, because you never know when you will be asked to ID the founder of one of St. Louis' greatest cultural and educational institutions. -- Paul Friswold
Saguaro the Cacti?
Visitors to the Henry Shaw Cactus Society Show and Sale are floored by the alien-looking plant life to be ogled there. When you think "cactus," you think of a Saguaro-shaped thing covered in spines or maybe a cute little bulb with a pink flower sprouting from the top. Think again. Words cannot do justice to the wide variety of plants at this event. Many of them do not look like they're from planet Earth, let alone Missouri kitchen-windows. See what we mean at the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard, 314-577-9400, free with Garden admission) from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Sunday, July 27. All these prickly succulents want is a little love -- and even less water. -- Byron Kerman
Better Than IHOP
If this year's Veiled Prophet Parade, starring a bunch of white-bread elitists in bad makeup and native garb (apparently left over from last-year's Halloween party), left you with a bad taste, try what the Lou's got cookin' at the Parade of Nations -- an authentic celebration of cultural diversity in concert with the Sister Cities International Conference.
The parade begins at 9 a.m. at the Millennium Hotel (200 South Fourth Street) and moves north along Market to Kiener Plaza. Check out the costumes, music and traditions of no less than 137 nations.
For the lowdown on this high-stepping event, call 314-721-5505 or visit www.slcir.org. -- Tom R. Arterburn