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The Necks

The Necks are a virtually unclassifiable piano trio from Sydney, Australia. Neither jazz nor rock, this deceptive unit has toed a single line of conduct -- whether recording or performing -- throughout its career. Pianist (and sometimes organist) Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton, and drummer Tony Buck usually commence their shows and recording sessions by playing a single, basic, melodic, and rhythmic figure that, over an extended period of time, gradually transforms its shape. Microscopic tonal, dynamic, electronic, textural changes and minimal harmonic variations are gradually introduced. When any piece reaches its nadir, the music has evolved into something else entirely, though its root layers remain. The Necks have drawn comparisons to Krautrock groups like Can and Faust, as well as composers such as LaMonte Young and Tony Conrad, but exist in a unique musical terrain. Whether in the gentle, trance-like grooves of 1989's Sex, the undulating exchange of synth and piano in 2003's Drive By, the quaking space rock of the following year's Hanging Gardens, or the dark, brooding, elegantly fractured -- and occasionally explosive -- interludes on 2017's BODY, and wandering atmospherics, textures and rhythms in 2023's Travel, the Necks never remain static. Over the past three decades, their reputation has spread across the globe. The Necks were formed in Sydney, Australia in 1987. The original lineup of pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton, and drummer Tony Buck has remained stable, even though they all have busy and highly divergent careers. Abrahams is an acclaimed session keyboardist who has released a couple of solo piano albums, written music for film and television, and toured the world in 1993 with the rock group Midnight Oil. Swanton is a much in-demand session jazz bassist and a regular on the jazz festival circuit. He has played in the Benders and founded the Catholics, as well as accompanied Stephen Cummings and Sting. Buck spends most of his time in avant-garde circles, with multiple collaborations and projects (including wortk with Otomo Yoshide and Keiji Haino. His best-known engagements have included the trio PERIL and the klezmer-punk group Kletka Red. Sex, The Necks' debut was released in 1989 by Spiral Scratch in Australia. It consisted of a single, 56-minute work. 1990's Next also appeared from Spiral Scratch initally, but was reissued just months later on the band's own Fish of Milk label. It offered six widely varying pieces that applied the same performance logic as their debut. It was about this time that the term "Necks music" was coined by fans to describe their sound. On Aquatic, they saturated the mix with more electronics and reverted to the one track spread over two sides approach to structured yet wandering improvisation. By the time the Necks released 1998's Piano Bass Drums, their recipe was fixed and would no longer change in approach. In 1996, the Private Music label re-released Sex in the United States. It was the Necks' first exposure on the North American continent and it did not get them far. But Europe was catching on and the group began a series of annual tours there. Piano Bass Drums and the soundtrack for Rowan Woods' film The Boys both received Australian award nominations in 1998. The more energetic, almost space-rocking Hanging Gardens, released in 1999, opened more doors, including a first American tour in late 2001. The album was picked up for distribution by the British avant-garde label ReR Megacorp the same year. Another North American tour in 2002 followed the release of Aether, the group's studio masterpiece. Drive By followed in 2003 and took home the ARIA Music Awards Best Jazz Album prize in 2004. Subsequent albums Mosquito/See Through (2004), Chemist (2006), Silverwater (2009), and Mindset (2011) continued to bring in accolades, delivering consistently fresh, often wildly inventive takes on the trio's signature approach to riffing. In 2013 they released Open which, like its 2015 single-track follow-up Vertigo, saw a return to the long-form improvisation of earlier works. Arriving in 2017, the ambitious Unfold, a double album on Stephen O'Malley's Ideologic Organ label, featured four non-sequential tracks (they can be heard in any order) -- each one is its own suite. During the summer of 2018, the trio issued BODY on Family Vineyard, showcasing a return to the single, long-form improvised work. After touring Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and part of North America, the Necks issued Three in 2018, a winding textural and visceral musical exploration through three individual, contrasting tracks that delved into separate tenets of their sound. The album's variety of tones and structures offer an aural glimpse of the immersive sonic universe the trio have been constructing, through recorded and live performance, for more than 30 years. Five years later -- three of them interrupted or partially interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia -- the trio returned with Travel in 2023. Their 19th studio album (and 21st overall) it documented the recent trio discipline / practice of starting each day in the studio with a 20-minute improvisation. The completed recordings, spread over four LP sides, offer some of their most ecstatic and captivating music.
© François Couture and Thom Jurek /TiVo
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