The Playhouse, February 16


Thirty-three years on, and the Necks continue to pursue the art of the slow-cooked anti-climax. As of this concert they have now played in all six internal Sydney Opera House venues: the Studio, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Concert Hall, Utzon Room, Drama Theatre and the Playhouse. Who else’s music is sufficiently malleable in presentation, appeal and execution to work in such diverse spaces?

Photos: Prudence Upton

The Playhouse, too seldom used as a concert venue, was ideal for pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck to continue exploring the infinitude of possibilities implicit in long-form improvisations, slowly-evolving motifs and the charting of interactive or parallel courses. Here intense interaction was central to both 50-minute pieces, and immediately striking about the first was how much music was made with so little overt input. It was as if the rests teemed with implied notes, and the musicians were exactingly selective in which ones they chose to play.

The passing decades have actually expanded the Necks’ options rather than narrowed them, and there were moments of sudden rather than evolutionary change, as when Swanton would modify a bass figure, and Abrahams would instantly alter course with him, rather than continuing to paddle in the established pool of ideas. At one such moment I fell through a hole of total immersion, so the music was a world complete unto itself (as ideally should, but doesn’t, happen at all concerts). And when you do fall entirely under the Necks’ spell, the tiniest musical gestures assume monumental implications.

Both improvisations were brooding and portentous, the first like a build-up of bruising clouds without the release of a storm; the second almost plaintive to begin, before the melodic content assumed less import than the trio’s ability to shift tracts of density with glacial slowness. In both pieces you could hear the ending coming from a long way out, like seeing a destination when you crest a hill, and the route to the final note was as engrossing as anything on the journey.