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Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

Unstoppable momentum

20 February 2020

Eduardo Cossio finds The Necks’ concert an act of discovery, full of tight corners and elegant solutions.

Review: The Necks ·
The Rechabite, 19 February 2020 ·
Review by Eduardo Cossio ·

The Rechabite’s renovated interior is a mix of the slick and the raw, with its high vaulted ceilings, leadlights and steel columns – an apt atmosphere for the music of The Necks, the Australian experimental jazz trio known for the finesse of their interactions as well as the boldness of their improvisations.

In their 33-year career, they have taken cues from avant-garde music while also displaying an ever-expanding sonic palette. Their Perth Festival concert had a back-to-basics approach that eschewed the samples and electronics they used in their last visit to Perth two years ago.

Pianist Chris Abrahams began by playing undulating, bluesy figures. Lloyd Swanton on double bass and Tony Buck on drums responded with a groove that swelled slowly and quickened to a halt; a lopsided accompaniment to Abrahams’ clamouring inflections. Their parts leaned against each other in a back-and-forth manner, obscuring rhythms and favouring pulse, the push and pull that is the bedrock of their long-form improvisations.

At one point, Lloyd Swanton picked-up the pace with melodic figures consisting of octaves, glissandi, and hammer-ons high on the fretboard. Abraham’s undulating motif was now transformed into a percussive cluster that bounced off Buck’s cyclical drumming. The music’s melancholic lilt brought to mind the spiritually-laden work of John Coltrane in the mid-60s.

The momentum seemed unstoppable when they began sounding out the room. Instrumental sonorities were projected around the space as the musicians stressed particular resonances. Yet, the music maintained its haunting lyricism despite the noisy polyphony.

Any improviser will tell you how challenging it is to start and finish a performance convincingly. The Necks ended their set with a dramatic leap towards silence: a sudden thinning out of the textures and it was over. Some punters were quick to applaud while others were left under a spell.

If the first set had a narrative quality due to its melodic material, the second half was the polar opposite. The abstract textures began with Buck rubbing cymbals on the drum skin. The glassy sonorities were sustained by Swanton with clear bowed lines. Abrahams played high-pitched sounds, delivered in pointillist manner. The music sounded like a phrase taken from Anton Webern and looped out of sync.

The band members appeared more animated at this stage, in particular Buck, who raised his elbows to target different parts of a ride cymbal. A climax was achieved when the scratchy sounds of the double bass burst into a kind of hysterical singing.

The Necks have maintained a consistent aesthetic in their recorded output and live performances. Yet their albums are conceived as finished products: the material has been mulled over and arranged to create specific moods. It is in the live setting where audiences are privy to their processes.

The Necks showed that their music is an act of discovery, full of tight corners and elegant solutions.

The Necks’ last concert at the Rechabite is on 20 February 2020.

The Necks are Tony Buck on drums, Lloyd Swanton on double bass, and Chris Abrahams on piano. Photo: Alan Murphy

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Author —
Eduardo Cossio

Eduardo Cossio is a musician active in the Perth experimental music scene. He is a presenter on Difficult Listening (RTRFM), his music reviews appear on Realtime Arts and Cool Perth Nights and he runs Outcome Unknown, a concert series of exploratory music. At the playground he would try and get some percussive sounds happening.

Past Articles

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