Cult band to crossover success:
>> THE NECKS
The Necks have been together for 16 years: drummer Tony Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton and pianist Chris Abrahams.
It is possible that their outstanding new studio album Drive By will finally transform them from cult band to crossover, appealing to every clubber, new-ager, stressed professional, disaffected musician, culture maven, jazz fan and geek in possession of a decent hi-fi. But it may not, for nothing happens quickly in the world of the Necks.
Get this: three musicians come together for a few months each year to tour and record. Each performance, each album comprises roughly one hour of slowly changing, mesmerising, totally acoustic music. They don\’t rehearse and nothing is prepared in advance, so each gig, each set is different from the last one.
Necks big thing
Their music can be slow, fast, gentle, aggressive, multi-layered, minimalist, tonal, abstract, retro, futuristic, chilled, funky, trance-like, controlled, overwhelming, intellectual and sensual. It is often several of those things at once. There\’s plenty to listen to, but you can also let it just wash over you, or let it burble on as superior background music.
"The concept of the album was to have discrete instrumental groups in different polyrhythms recorded simultaneously and move between them gradually," says Swanton. "There\’s a couple of weeks of recording involved there. Most of the overdubs went for an hour – it\’s just that in the final mix, we may have only used a few minutes."
This is the strength of the Necks. They have created a method of performing that transcends style while retaining meaning – in the most stylish way possible.
For many years the band played very little, for geographical reasons. Producer John Cummings put the Necks on at the London Jazz festival a few years ago:"That gig completely split the audience. People were blown away- you couldn¥t believe that it wasn¥t enhanced electroni cally. Yet a friend of mine who directs one of the key European jazz festivals hated it and walked out after 10 minutes.
If Drive By is a hitch-hike, it\’s an hour-long ride through William Gibson territory in a sleek limo, blurred shapes barely visible through the tinted windows. A triple-time electric piano figure provides a click track against which several different versions of the Necks fade in and out. There are glassy piano chords, deep bass guitar riffs, rattling snare, buzzing organ counterpoint, a Moroccan hand drum, the sounds of a children\’s playground, sci-fi percussion effects, played out across a constantly evolving and shifting pulse in three-four and four-four time.
Australian trio The Necks rarely rehearse, don\’t often see each other and never play the same live set twice. But their music is gripping – and may be about to cross into the mainstream. John L Walters reports
Friday January 9, 2004
The Necks – Drive By (ReR Megacorp)
The beauty of the Necks lies in their deceptive simplicity; an attentive listen reveals lots of complex arrangements at work. Drive By is certainly more kinetic and infectiously rhythmic when compared to their more atmospheric earlier releases like Aether and more soulful than the frenetic and darker themed Hanging Gardens. The CD opens up with electric keyboard followed by the rustling, arterial pulse from the acoustic bass and paradoxically rhythmic yet discordant percussion.
Each artist is a well respected performer in his own right, dabbling in everything from praised recordings to film scores. Its tempting to call them a jazz trio, but the Necks share more in common with Can, Charlemagne Palestine (think Strumming Music), house and techno than any jazz musician per se. In fact, apart from musical touchstones, one would be hard pressed to find artists producing similar work.
An interesting addition to Drive By is the use of field recordings crickets chirping, the drone from helicopters and the din of children playing interspersed throughout the recording. These layered sounds afford the Necks a new found density. Call it what you will fractal music, instrumental techno, Reichian jazz? all of it and none of it are apt description; the Necks operate in their own league.
The Necks – Drive By – ReR (2004)
The Necks have been around since 1987 but play together for only one or two months out of every year, when they all reconvene to Sydney at Christmas time. For the rest of the year drummer Tony Buck is based in Berlin, Lloyd Swanton is a busy jazz session bassist, and pianist Chris Abrahams is occupied with various other musical projects. The music they make together as The Necks rises from the purest sense of improvisation, their live sets unravelling slowly as they explore the acoustic possibilities of the space they are performing in, their studio albums working from a similar base but making use of overdubs and the like to add layers of subtle complexities to their simple but ever-shifting musical template. Ostensibly this is jazz, but really it is unclassifiable, drifting through territories some would claim to recognise as post rock, electronic, new age and ambient.
The Necks – Drive By [Morphius; 2003]
Rating: 7. 4
Drive By is only the trio\’s latest disc-long piece. Chris Abrahams fronts the band on keyboard, droning organ and a smattering of glass-etchingly resonant piano, but the rhythm section drives this date, with Lloyd Swanton playing a select few different riffs on upright bass and Tony Buck displaying robotic endurance on drums and shakers. And even though The Necks work routinely in the hour-long format, they can still turn it into an event: Drive By ramps up portentously and then plows ahead like an engine, until (spoiler warning:) it wraps up like a puff of air at the finish.
The Necks – Photosynthetic (Long Arms) The Necks – Drive By (Recommended Records)
The Australia piano trio The Necks work in heavy repetition and reiteration with a formula that is almost mind-numbingly simple. State theme, repeat, change slightly, stop after an hour. That\’s it, and anyone wanting more won\’t find it. Different records have different feelings: one might lead toward Miles Davis, another Bernard Herrmann, but the agenda is unchanging. Wash, rinse, repeat. And this is where they work their magic of minor alteration. A phrase augments, an instrument drops out, and the listener, lulled by repetition, feels like something has changed when all they\’ve done is taken something away. Yet somehow the music has been changing all along.
But unlike much music that finds it\’s aesthetic in repetition, the music of The Necks is extremely human.
Photosynthetic is low-concept even for The Necks. Recorded live in Moscow in 2002.
Within that framework, the hour-long Drive By is a remarkable piece of work.
(All albums released in Australia on Fish of Milk through Shock, except as noted)
Sex 1989, USA: Private Music, 1996
Aquatic 1994, USA: Carpet Bomb 1999
Silent Night 1996
Piano Bass Drums 1998
(nominated Jazz Recording of the Year, ABC Classic FM Awards)
Music for the feature film The Boys 1998, Wild Sound/MDS
(nominated Best Soundtrack Album, ARIA Awards and Australian Guild of Screen Composers Awards)
Hanging Gardens 1999, Europe ReR 2001
Aether 2001 Europe: ReR 2002
Athenaeum, Homebush, Quay & Raab 2002
Photosynthetic 2003 Russia: Long Arms
Drive By 2003 Europe : ReR
In the Mind of the Architect 2000, 3 X 1 hr ABC-TV documentaries
The Boys 1998, 80 mins, director: Rowan Woods
(nominated Best Musical Score, AFI Awards and Australian Guild of Screen Composers Awards)
What\’s the Deal? 1997, 17 mins, director: Robert Mac
Australia numerous performances in Sydney, Melbourne & Brisbane since 1987
Mexico 1987 12 cities (with Jeannie Lewis, subject of SBS-TV documentary "Maroubra to Mexico")
Berlin, Germany 1995
Europe 1998 15 cities
Europe 1999: (April-May) 9 cities (Sep-Oct) 12 cities
Australia 2000 8 cities, 11 shows
Europe 2000 (May-June) 17 cities (Oct-Nov) 8 cities
Australia 2001 10 cities, 18 shows
Europe 2001 (March-April) 7 cities
USA/Europe 2001 (October-November) 15 cities, 16 shows
Australia 2002 (Jan-Feb) 8 cities, 16 shows
Europe 2002 (March) 2 cities
Canada 2002 3 cities
NZ/Aust 2002 (Oct-Nov) 5 cities, 6 shows
Europe 2002 (Nov-Dec) 10 cities
Australia 2003 (Feb-March) 5 cities, 8 shows
Europe 2003 (May-June) 13 cities, 14 shows (August) 2 cities
Australia 2004 5 cities, 12 shows