The Necks

Joan Sutherland Theatre, March 3

The Necks Prudence Upton res
Photo: Prudence Upton.

Playing in the Concert Hall as guests of Brian Eno was one thing. Playing in the Joan Sutherland Theatre under their own name was a clearer indication of the growing hometown respect for the Necks, after 27 years of hearing them in smaller rooms. Although seldom used for the purpose this theatre is probably Sydney’s finest concert venue, and the flawless lighting and sound made the intimate trio and a big stage a surprisingly natural fit. As ever their concert consisted of two slowly-evolving improvisations, one of about 40 minutes and the second slightly longer.

Improvised music makes the audience privy to how the end-product is created, and somehow gazing down on drummer Tony Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton and pianist Chris Abrahams with such perfect sight-lines focused one’s attention on process more than ever.

A telling aspect was their instinct for leaving entry points into the music for each other. The way Abrahams began the first piece, for example, could easily have led to a piano improvisation that was self-sufficient, but these three players have a knack for beckoning each other into the game, and for making contributions to what already exists that advance the narrative.

For however slow-moving the evolution of seemingly endlessly-repeated motifs may be, their music is seldom in a state of stasis, but is more like descriptive passages linked by taut plot turning-points. At its best – and it happened here in both improvisations – the improvising created an aura of enchantment, much as a child feels upon entering a world of make-believe.

When they did fall into a prolonged sequence that was anything like stasis the tension, rather than slackening, only mounted, until finally released by one member changing his part, as Buck did in the first piece. But in this, as in most matters, the instruments do not have defined roles.

Stepping out of that gentle enchantment afterwards I was struck, however, that the two pieces had been more similar than is often the case.