The Necks

The Studio, March 7


The Necks res Ken Leanfore
Photo: Ken Leanfore.

Not everyone gets the Necks. The gentleman in front of me hated them. While his wife slept he either squirmed as if undergoing torture or checked his messages, and at the end he was dumbfounded by the surrounding applause. But then where most music is fashioned from big, listen-to-me gestures, the art of the Necks lies in making so much out of so little.

The initial building blocks for the two 70-minute improvisations were a charming little piano motif (reminiscent of Debussy) in the first and some sparse bass in the second. Yet from such rudimentary seeds such emphatic, dramatic and even narrative music materialised. On this night both pieces were largely reflective in mood, although the second developed a pulse, considerable density and ultimately an almost furious energy.

Process and outcome are one and the same in improvisation, and after collaborating intensely for almost 30 years pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck have developed an ever greater courage often to play very little. They just let the music be, and most specifically to let it be the sum of the parts without anyone feeling a need to make it “happen”.

A key aspect of the evolution of their improvisations lies in shifts between which instruments occupy the music’s foreground at any given moment. Sometimes they are three equal voices, but more often the music’s surface is in a state of focal flux.

The second piece evolved more rapidly and attained a higher pitch of drama, although both were fascinating. A highlight was the fact that each improvisation contained a phase where a phantom fourth player emerged, thanks to the build-up of overtones in the interrelationships between the three instruments. In both pieces the effect was akin to a male choir, and that sonic magic was a tribute to the excellence of the sound, which allowed every nuance to be savoured. Indeed after intermittent performances there over the years The Studio should be the Necks’ permanent Sydney home.