Rise Above by Skull Session, review by Scott Gotschall

Skull Session’s Rise Above offers everything the best of the free jazz world has to offer. It provides good licks, musicality, excitement, tenderness, contrast, and even a little bop and post-bop for you hard-liners. The Boston/East Coast based group truly provides an innovative and artistic experience.

Each song is based on a composed lick (provided in most cases by guitarist Jeff Platz). The bass intro is followed by a head, and then the group is off to the races. At the end they return to the original phrase, a comfortable form for jazz listeners of all kinds.

Joe Morris provides exceptional rhythmic variety on bass. Hardly providing simple quarter-notes, he uses every trick in the bag to transform the time. Triplets, off-beat eighth- and quarter-notes, backbeats, and various other devices are all present. As a musician he does an exceptional job providing a baseline for the rest of the group.

The next artist worthy of mention (although they all are) is drummer Luther Gray. Gray’s drumming provides the backbone from which all the other musician’s may stray. He pins the group together - steady yet creative. The playing may be a little close to post-bop for some free jazz listeners, but without his sticking the album could not be as cohesive an experience for the musicians or the listeners.

Timo Shanko and Scott Getchell playing tenor saxophone and trumpet, respectively, are the perfect embodiment for every free jazz fanatic. Mr. Shanko uses the typical screams and honks, but also provides tonal variety and melodic intervals that truly make sense within the confines of his lines. He also provides contrasts - using loud and soft, fast and slow, articulated and slurred. His playing reminds the listener of the glory days of Ornette Coleman and so many others. Scott Getchell blowing trumpet is the most technical of the group. His range and versatility on his instrument is most inspiring. One never tires of a virtuoso.

Finally, the leader and guitarist of the group is Jeff Platz. He should be commended for combining such a group of talented and creative people. His intelligence also comes through in the music. Avoiding the "effects" that must be so tempting for a free jazz guitarist, he generates creative freedom through the use of harmonic and melodic ingenuity. Mr. Platz produces beautiful tunes, and beautiful improvisations with mind and hands.

Skull Session’s brilliance lies not only in the talents of its individual members, but also the way these members come together to form a unit larger than itself. One is reminded of the proverb that the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. This is truly the case here. There is much debate about whether or not free jazz, progressive jazz, "out" jazz, or by whatever other name it’s called is truly worthy of the high-brow term "jazz". When one listens to this album, there can be no doubt.        

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