The Necks

Vertigo
Northern Spy NS 067

By Ken Waxman

Members of the Australian trio, the Necks habitually construct mesmerizing CDs consisting of one extended improvisation. As committed to their musical vision as ensembles such as the Beaux Arts or the Lyric Arts trios were to theirs, after three decades as a band pianist/keyboardist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and percussionist Tony Buck can still alter the overall interpretation in such a way that it become like an aural kaleidoscope offering novel facets on each playing.

Unlike earlier creations which relied on Swanton’s unvarying plucked tone to buoy the improvisation, with Vertigo it is Abrahams who sets the pace. After an initial piano showcase that finds him channeling David Tudor-like minimalism and Professor Longhair-like exuberance, he bares the connective theme, variations of which resonate throughout the 44-minute program. Exploring the acoustic piano’s low-frequency continuum plus internal strings at points, he concurrently coaxes rasping timbres from electronic keyboards that seem to emanate from a revved-up harpsichord or replicate billowing pipe-organ like quivers. Or does he? Because one of the attainments of the Necks is that generally a sound can’t be ascribed to a specific instrument. Certainly temple bell-like clatters, metal rim-like clunks and remote resolute thumps come from Buck’s kit; while winsome stops, twang and infrequent connective drones arise from Swanton’s instrument. But what is the genesis of the whip-like snaps that echo throughout the piece, as well as the vibrations audible from what could be steam-whistle blasts or vocal chorale-like bellowing?

Ultimately it doesn’t matter. Like dwelling built on a flood plain which gradually becomes water logged as the sea level rises, the strength of this sonic mosaic is how easily the sounds blend into a multiphonic mosaic. Vertigo won’t cause you to lose your balance except in a positive way, as you’re knocked out by the many-sided skills that went into producing this session.

—For The Whole Note April 2016