Chris Abrahams / Mike Majkowski / James Waples

August 16, 2012

Frost Frost

Bo’Weavil weavil 42 CD

The Necks


ReR Necks10

Buried among the resilient, intertwined polyphony which has characterized Australian trio The Necks’ creations over more than a quarter-century is the realization that each member is a first-class originator on his own. That why it’s instructive to compare Mindset, the band’s 16th CD, with Frost Frost, by Roil, a piano trio featuring The Necks’ pianist Chris Abrahams. As soldered as the tremolo patterning and aleatory dynamics of the sometimes-multi-tracked Abrahams are to the solid tempo of bassist Lloyd Swaton and the firm beat and interpolated samples from drummer Tony Buck with The Necks, the Roil CD displays his proficiency in a new setting.

The reason for Sydney-based Roil’s individuality is that each member brings improv skills honed in other settings to the band; and very rarely does the result resemble what’s expected from the standard Jazz trio of piano-bass-drums. Bassist Mike Majkowski often plays with flautist Jim Denley and is a founding member of the Splinter Orchestra. Another Splinter member and drummer here, James Waples, has worked with players as different as vibist/installation artist Dale Gorfinkel and mainstream pianist Mike Nock. Taken as a whole Frost Frost is close to a suite with an understated exposition, a climatic middle section and an encapsulated finale,

At the top, the three experiment with different tempos, pulses and balances, with the performances anchored by Majkowski’s sul ponticello runs and spiccato jumps or Abrahams’ lyrical, low-frequency glissandi. By the final and title track the experiments are resolved among the repeated, methodical keyboard exhibitions, bass thumps and slides, plus rubs and scrapes from the drum set. However the CD reaches its expressive crescendo(s) with “Super Victim” and “Water Servant” after each Roiler has expressed himself fully with kinetic, concentrated and cantilevered improvisations. The latter tune is a particular Abrahams’ showcase as he simultaneously exposes consistent clanking and tremolo rumbles from his left hand and dancing glissandi from his right. Seconded by plinked or sawed swirls from the bassist’s strings plus castanet-like clacks and flanges from the drummer, the piano playing is transformed further as the piece unrolls. A discreetly ornamented unaccompanied intermezzo of almost equal temperament follows an episode of stained plucks on the internal string set and precedes an ending made up of brief note clusters. In contrast, “Super Victim” is all about tightening and loosening drum lugs, skittering bow strokes over bass strings and pedal pushed piano lines giving way to glissandi that accelerates from tremolo to kinetic to metronomic. With the soundboard, capotes and other instrument parts vibrating, Abrahams’ high-frequency key fanning provides the backdrop to Waples’ minimalist exploration of different parts of his kit.

With Mindset, Abrahams is back in his customary role with the Necks, whose emphasizing mesmerizing soundscapes. Although the juddering and whirling “Rum Jungle” is supposed to be all-acoustic, suggestions of saxophone-like cries and sampling of unidentified tones seem audible alongside Swanton’s unvarying bass strokes and the pianist’s high-frequency chording. Swishing cymbal pressures and drum clip-clops keep the theme balanced. Almost identical in length, the hypnotic effect of “Daylights” is built up by enhancing the regular instruments with overdubbing. These additions encompass quivering guitar agitation from Buck and Abrahams’ concentrated organ washes and speedy electric piano glissandi. Besides all this, the track is swathed in a percolating rhythmic undertow which seeps in among, around and behind the trio instruments’ expected acoustic tones. With many timbres undifferentiated, Abrahams’ key clips and toy-piano-like swats, plus Buck’s cymbals splashes and drum top claps stand out from the opaque backdrop.

Mindset confirms that the sophisticated teamwork which creates The Necks’ inimitable approach remains intact after many years. Meanwhile Frost Frost confirms that like Buck and Swanton in their own fashions, there’s nothing, except possibly inertia, that’s preventing Abrahams from pursuing a solo career.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Frost: 1. Honeydew 2. Costume of Melancholy 3. The Swinging Treatment 4.

Super Victim 5. Water Servant 6. The Absence of Air 7. Frost Frost

Personnel: Frost: Chris Abrahams (piano); Mike Majkowski (bass) and James Waples (drums)

Track Listing: Mindset: 1. Rum Jungle 2. Daylights

Personnel: Mindset: Chris Abrahams (piano, Hammond organ, Rhodes electric piano, other keyboards); Lloyd Swanton (bass, electric bass) and Tony Buck (drums, percussion, guitar samples)