In an evening of luminous soundscapes, The Necks show why they are masters of improvisation. Kristian Borring is thrilled to hear the trio live.
WA Museum Boola Bardip, 3 June 2023
Australian trio The Necks have built a cult following worldwide during their four-decade long musical journey. Seeing them for the first time – in the second of two nights at WA Museum Boola Bardip – I can understand why.
My introduction to the band came more than 10 years ago, through their then European tour manager, who was acting as publicist on one of my early albums. “Just go and see them,” she urged. So, it’s fair to say that when the stars finally aligned, I was excited to hear them live.
Hackett Hall is packed for the trio’s two sets of improvised music, melding avant-garde, minimalist, ambient and jazz to create something new.
The first set grows from pianist Chris Abraham’s searching small group of notes, developing into an incredible organic soundscape that forms a perfect dynamic arch for the 45 minute-improvisation. Initially taking the audience on a cinematic journey, it is striking how the trio manage to transcend intangible imagery to show a real sense of improvisatory interplay through subtle variations.
When it comes to freely improvised music, I always try to understand the rules and premises. Most improvisors have them, consciously or not. While the first set delivers what I expect from The Necks, the second set has me questioning whether they are, in fact, a one-trick pony.
With Lloyd Swanton starting out on the double bass with a repetitive tremolo of three notes, it feels like we are about to witness a similar build-up and journey to the first set. Not so. The players are more searching, leading each other in different directions throughout the improvisation. I prefer this set – it feels more actively dynamic and real in comparison to the almost serene and perfectly shaped opener.
In my improvisation class at WAAPA, I present students with the concept of “following their ideas through”. This notion of holding on to an initial idea and trust in its potential is truly a skill The Necks master and arguably why they are so mesmerising to listen to. There are no sudden moves or judgement. An idea is embraced and developed together deliberately and with care. It made me think of a large freight train moving through the landscape. Such a vehicle can’t just start, stop, or change direction on a whim – it takes time.
Similarly, Abrahams, Swanton and drummer Tony Buck follow their ideas through together without hesitation, wrapping them up or changing direction with persistence and focus.
As I walk down the stairs after the lengthy applause, I hear a group throwing around the word “self-indulgent”. I must disagree. This was an inclusive performance, but patience was required to appreciate it.
Pictured top: The Necks are masters of following ideas through in improvisation. Photo: Bruce Lindsay
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