Skull Session: Rise Above review

GUITARIST JEFF PLATZ’S music might never burrow into the brains of many listeners, but anyone with a passion for the fiery spirit of ’50s/’60s free jazz will dig the debut from his group Skull Session, Rise Above (Skycap; available from Along with horn men Timo Shanko and Scott Getchell, drummer Luther Gray, and the respected guitarist Joe Morris playing upright bass, Platz makes a statement that at times zeroes in on the incendiary heart of the jazz avant-garde.

"With Joe around, he does what he does so well that you just strap yourself in and go." Platz — who works by day as a piano technician at the New England Conservatory, and who’s also a founder of the entertaining lounge/R&B outfit Lars Vegas — is being modest. Rise Above proves he’s a formidable bandleader, composing heads for his numbers that give his dynamic cast of players plenty of melodic and harmonic raw material to work with. Although Skull Session have been coloring their shades of Sonny Sharrock, Ornette Coleman, and Thelonious Monk on stage for five years, Skycap’s partners nudged Platz into putting more energy into the band. "Lars Vegas is popular enough that we can get good paying gigs in New York on weekends. I really appreciate that and want to keep it going. But I’ve been playing that music for a long time and have wanted to challenge myself with the music I really want to do. When the guys at Skycap heard the Skull Session stuff and said they’d want to put it out, I was really encouraged."

Now, as Platz scratches that itch, his clean but edgy blend of Gibson ES-175 and Fender amp is being heard in the company of such respected six-string explorers as Nels Cline and Thurston Moore, who are also on the German label. Platz is working on a follow-up to the elegant, contemplative, and skronking Rise Above, and he’s planning to take the group to Europe in the fall. "I feel like this is a starting point for me in getting my music out there, played by a group of people who share my energy and focus. I hate to say it, but this town does not lend itself to this type of music. There’s no support system for it here, and this is the environment I’ve been performing in for more than 10 years. So it’s crazy to see respected critics in major European newspapers saying good things about Skull Session."

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