The Necks

The Basement, February 4

Necks res
Photo: Prudence Upton.

Among the many casualties of aging is the capacity for being surprised. From broken promises to broken records and from Mahler to Madonna one has seen and heard it all before. Perhaps the odd sunset and a straight-talking pollie may still do it, and in the world of music there is always the Necks.

Now 28 years young the maverick trio can still spring surprises despite the conventional piano/bass/drums instrumentation and their formulaic approach of using incremental differences to repeated motifs in their long-form improvisations.

But pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck are masters of texture, timbre and the interaction of overtones, and therein lies part of their ability to surprise. Several times during this concert I opened my eyes half expecting to see that a fourth musician had materialised (which may happen the day hell freezes over), Meanwhile this ghost of another player was being conjured by the interaction of the sounds, particularly Abrahams’ creation of cross currents of rhythmically, harmonically and melodically disparate material.

Across the years the three-way interaction has become ever more sophisticated, especially rhythmically. They have moved beyond the desire to lock in with what each other is doing, preferring to chart parallel courses that may or may not have convergence points. Given that much of the raw material is essentially rubato these days the music arrives in colliding waves of sound, and yet, unlike much music without an identifiable pulse, that of the Necks almost always carries a strong sense of forward momentum.

The only drawback of the two hour-long improvisations – clearly no one has told the Necks’ audience about the age of the short-attention span – was that, having flirted with varying levels of sonic voluptuousness and luxuriance, both became essays in density. This made the second piece lose something of that magical surprise factor, even if the Basement’s commendable new sound system provided crucial help in defining detail within that density.

The Necks: the Basement, March 14.