Do punk and free jazz cross paths? There are some who would argue unquestionably yes. Guitarist Nels Cline, for example, often combines a raw unschooled edge and sense of reckless abandon with a far more developed harmonic sensibility. So, too, does guitarist Jeff Platz, whose background in the late '70s in Cleveland, Ohio was with a variety of punk bands. But even as he pursued a more combative rock style, his attention turned more and more towards free jazz and improvised music, where a similarly aggressive capability existed, albeit on a broader palette. And so we find ourselves with Skull Session's Rise Above , which teams Platz with saxophonist Timo Shanko, trumpeter Scott Getchell, drummer Luther Gray and bassist Joe Morris who, while only picking up the instrument in '00 (his first instrument being guitar), has shown considerable growth. The result is an album that retains much of the edge of punk but expands its dynamic horizons to a wider range of feels and rhythms.
"Roshamatod" opens the set with the kind of tumultuous chaos that one might expect from someone with Platz's history. Platz has clearly been influenced by guitarists including Derek Bailey and, not surprisingly, Joe Morris himself, with a surprisingly clean tone that nevertheless draws many sharp edges with its off-kilter approach. And his rock roots are never that far away, as evidenced on the closer, "Rind," which, with its faux-tango rhythm, finds Platz showing some blues roots even as he solos with a more unconstrained melodic sense.
Platz's compositions provide the barest starting points for the group. "Ochre Moon" is nothing more than a simple rubato phrase that percolates over the restrained maelstrom of Gray and Morris. "Genius Syndrome" is an African-informed 6/8 bass figure with a simple guitar/sax motif that sets the stage for a strong and impulsive solo from Shanko. "Downward Chop" is another 6/8 figure, this time with hints of John Zorn's Masada in its slight Middle Eastern inflection.
If punk is an attitude, so, too, is free playing. Both are organic and immediate, with a lack of inhibition. There is certainly nothing impressionistic about either form; everything is completely clear and no doubts exist. But with the broader rhythmic and harmonic possibilities in free jazz, it is possible to explore a wider range of expression; and Rise Above , aptly titled in its ability to transcend simple suggestion into a place where improvisation defines deeper feeling, clearly succeeds in conveying where this ensemble was at a particular moment in time.
I love jazz because I was born and raised here in America, and it is one of the most significant cultural contributions we have given to the world. It is an incredibly sophisticated artform that continues to challenge boundaries while delighting and engaging listeners of all different ages and backgrounds
I love jazz because I was born and raised here in America, and it is one of the most significant cultural contributions we have given to the world. It is an incredibly sophisticated artform that continues to challenge boundaries while delighting and engaging listeners of all different ages and backgrounds. I love how jazz can involve musicians who may have never met each other can coming together and making incredible music by referring to the Great American Songbook and musicians who have been playing together for years, who have a deep connection and who explore and create original music that is at the cutting edge of musical innovation in every sense. Performing jazz music requires a virtuosity and technique that only strict discipline can teach as well as a spontaneity and playfulness that reflects the simple folk roots of the music.
I was first exposed to jazz as a student in college. Only knowing I wanted to play guitar, I enrolled in an applied music program that focused on Jazz rhythm section playing. The subsequent journey that I have been on since the time that I enrolled in that class has helped me grow not only as a musician but more so as a person.