THE NECKS – Live at Area Sismica, Forlì, Italy – 4th November 2011.
The Necks are three Australian 50-somethings – Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (percussion) and Lloyd Swanton (double bass).
Live, and on disc, their music consists of lengthy improvised pieces created with no conventional or pre-conceived ideas of start, middle or end.
After over 25 years together, the three have developed a degree of empathy which enables them to make music ‘in the moment’ without the fear of drying up or creating an in-cohesive noise. Instead they produce music which was well described by Richard Williams in an article for The Guardian as an “absorbing mesh of asynchronous rhythms”.
I remember from way back, an interview they did on Radio 3’s Mixing It where they described their approach to improvisation. The technique is that one of the three starts, usually with a quiet, repeated refrain and gradually this becomes to basis for the other two to contribute.
The three often close their eyes during the performance, completely absorbed in the process. They don’t look at each other while they play but pick up cues from the music rather than body language. I was fascinated by how they instinctively seemed to know when to change the pace and, in particular, when and how to end.
The problem of playing live in such an intimate venue (to an audience of about 75 people) is that the quiet moments have to compete with the bleeps and clicks of digital cameras, stifled coughs or, worst of all, the sound of one numbskull loudly blowing his nose. If nothing else, this is proof of the Cageian notion that pure silence never exists. The Necks don’t seem put off by these distractions
They played two pieces, both roughly one hour long. The first began with simple piano refrain, the second by plucked notes on the double bass. At first, the minimalism was such that nothing much seemed to be happening but gradually some impetus is created and, in the first piece, in particular they reach a point of harmonious repetition that shows why the sound they create has been dubbed ‘trance-jazz’. (Confession: the hypnotic effect was also a little soporific and I nodded off a couple of times!).
This was their only show in Italy as part of a European tour that will take them to Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Germany, France and the UK. A unique live experience that is definitely well worth experiencing if they are playing anywhere near you. It’s all about empathy