Born in 1972, Machacek grew up in Vienna, where he began studying classical guitar at the age of eight and continued for six years. While his early interest in guitar outside the classical field tended toward rock (Queen, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden), he later gravitated toward jazz, with a particular interest in jazz guitar great Joe Pass. “I was pretty much a straight ahead player back then because that was what the people played around me. I learned the Great American songbook and just played as much as I could. When I was 13 or 14, somebody gave me a Joe Pass record and I became the biggest Joe Pass fan in the 14th district of Vienna. I fell in love with this guy’s playing.”
At age 16, Alex enrolled at the Conservatory of Vienna, where he studied jazz guitar. “Usually you go to school until you’re 18 and then enter the Conservatory,” says Alex. “But I convinced my mother to let me quit school so that I could attend the Conservatory earlier.” During that time, he gained invaluable bandstand experience in a wide variety of groups, from Dixieland to pop cover bands, big band to musical theater, singer-songwriter to contemporary classical as well as sitting in on jam sessions.
A turning point in Machacek’s development came after he encountered the music of guitar god Allan Holdsworth. “I was so attracted to his playing because I had no clue what was going on. All I knew was it was different, it was great and I wanted to figure out what he was doing. And I have to admit, I definitely became a Holdsworth addict. And while I don’t want to deny my influences, I’m also trying to get something identifiable happening in my playing.”
Some years after his introduction to Holdsworth’s wholly unique approach to guitar playing, Machacek had a similar encounter with Frank Zappa’s music, which had a significant impact on him. “I always liked Allan’s playing but I was also looking for something else on a compositional level” says Alex. “Then I found Zappa. Other friends were turning me on to his music but I think his album Live in New York was one of the keys for me. I fell in love with that record. And, of course, Terry Bozzio plays on that record, so I also fell in love with Terry’s drumming.”
Zappa’s Live in New York, originally released in 1978, featured the notorious chops-busting drum feature, “The Black Page,” which has since stood as a kind of proving ground for drummers everywhere. That intricate piece planted the seeds for Bozzio’s uncannily melodic approach to the kit, which he subsequently elevated to high art on 1994’s Solo DrumMusic and 2006’s Chamber Works with the 60-piece Metropole Orkest of Holland. “In Vienna, everyone was always talking about this tune,” says Machacek. “The thinking was, if you could play ‘The Black Page,’ then you’ve made it as a musician. So I started transcribing it and learned it and just fell in love with that piece. ‘The Black Page’ is like a milestone. You learn that piece and it’s like earning your Bachelors degree.”
In 1993, Alex attended a summer course in Perugia, Italy, where he won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was during his stay at Berklee that he fortified his own approach to the guitar. At the time, the prevailing attitude among aspiring guitarists was to emulate either Pat Metheny or John Scofield, while the strictly straight ahead contingent identified more with the Pat Martino-Wes Montgomery camp. “But I wasn’t interested in any of that,” recalls Alex. “All of those guitarists are great but I was looking for something else. And what I came away with was the idea: Learn from them but don’t play like them. Instead, I’m trying to push past boundaries and hope that something new will come out in my playing.”
After completing his two semesters at Berklee, Alex returned to the Conservatory of Vienna to complete his degree in Jazz Education. He was named Guitar Newcomer for 1998 in a European guitar competition and the following year debuted as a leader with Featuring Ourselves. That same year, 1999, he was also introduced to his favorite drummer, Terry Bozzio. “A friend of mine (BPM saxophonist Gerald Preinfalk) had met Terry at a festival and found out he wanted to perform his ‘5 movements for woodwinds and strings’. Gerald hooked Terry up with the jazz festival in Vienna and he asked me if I could help him. So I orchestrated all the strings for that project and Gerald took care of all the woodwinds. And that’s how we met. But after that part of the project was completed I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to just orchestrate, I also want to play.’ So I wrote these trio tunes, and that’s how BPM actually evolved.”
That hookup led to an ongoing musical relationship which continues to this day. In 2001, they recorded Delete and Roll under the collective name BPM (for Bozzio, Preinfalk, Machacek) in Austin, Texas, where Bozzio moved his family after experiencing an earthquake in Los Angles. In 2002, BPM subsequently did two European tours. In 2003 Machacek and Bozzio performed with the former Zappa bassist Patrick O’Hearn (who had played alongside Bozzio on Zappa in New York). Their remarkable chemistry is documented on the DVD Out Trio. Bozzio and Machacek have recently formed a new trio with bassist Doug Lunn.
In October of 2004, Machacek and his wife Sumitra moved from their home base of Vienna to Los Angeles, where the guitarist has since created quite a buzz with his local appearances. As guitarist and producer Steve Khan once said, “Alex’s creativity and skill levels are overwhelming. With his first full CD project, he takes these talents to new levels. To my ears, he is a talent to be watched for years to come.”
Amen to that. Bill Milkowski