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.