May 29, 2014
Northern Spy Records NS 047
Without peer in its particular niche, the Australian Necks trio is one of those ensembles like the United Kingdom’s AMM or Germany’s Polwechsel whose performances and releases exist only in relation to the band’s own work. After more than two decades with the same personnel – keyboardist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and percussionist Tony Buck – The Necks variant of abstract improvisation is so specific as to be instantaneously identifiable. But once the parameters are established, careful listening perceives subtle sonic differences among the performances.
Since no snowflake is exactly alike, neither are any two Necks CDs. But what distinguishes a session like Open is how the band manages to retain interest during the nearly 68 minutes of this opus. Facilely described as Trance Jazz players, the Necks are a lot more than that, since the soporific qualities associated with trance are replaced by a palpable beat which keeps the senses fully alert.
If Open stands out it’s because on this CD, the rhythm responsibility isn’t borne exclusively by Swanton’s percussive string thumping. Connoting the rhythm via Buck’s one-string monochord at the top, it’s Abrahams’ subsequent repetative cascades which define the narrative. By the time Swanton’s bass string pops join the introduction, boundaries have been set with the keyboardist’s tremolo impressionism creatively coloring the melody alongside bell and cymbal resonations.
Anchoring its continued exposition in the repeated piano note clusters, `”Open” also cycles through sequences of heightened stimulation, ardent enough to shake up the program, but not so disturbing as to disrupt the logical compositional flow. Stretched keyboard glissandi and organ-like trembles are sounded, as are drum kit vibrations and irregularly pulsed cymbal slaps. It’s at these junctures that Swanton’s percussive stopping shores up the piano exposition as does a reapplication of the monochord tone. Before the piece effectively vanishes following spiccato bass-string buzzing, the secret of the Necks ability to maintain interest throughout is apparent. Vitally contributing to the proceeding, each man has almost inconspicuously been creating subtle variations on the theme as it evolves.
As bold as it is fascinating, Open is another Necks milestone that deserves careful listening.
Track Listing: Open: 1. Open
Personnel: Open: Chris Abrahams (dx7 and piano); Lloyd Swanton (bass) and Tony Buck drums, percussion and monochord)