AMN Reviews: The Necks – Three (2020; Northern Spy Records)

The Necks are perhaps Australia’s most famous instrumental trio, consisting of Chris Abrahams on piano, Lloyd Swanton on bass, and Tony Buck on drums and percussion.  Over the last 33 years, they have released 21 albums and toured extensively around the world.  Each member has also participated in solo excursions or side projects as well.

When performing live, the group has an improvisational formula of sorts – a slow start by one member, who is eventually joined by the other two in a piece that builds in intensity over a 30-60 minute period. Eventually, the tempo and pace is frenetic and filled with so many notes that mesmerizing wave-like patterns emanate from the band’s amalgam of sound. Nonetheless, each show is unique, which is why fans will attend multiple nights of Necks performances in a row.

Their albums are another story. Three, in particular, was composed from start to finish, consisting of a trio of distinct pieces hovering around 20 minutes each.

Bloom kicks off the album with a rapid multi-rhythmic percussion pattern from Buck, over which Abrahams chords assertively but at a much slower pace. Synth lines undulate in the background with occasional standalone percussive elements. Lovelock is a slower offering with melancholy piano meanderings, atmospheric swells of percussion, and a drone-like quality. Swanton’s bowed bass provides sweeping passages and echoing rattles.  Further is the most “traditional” of the set, with a repeating piano melody and organ washes mostly followed by the bass, as well as mildly-clattering percussion, all moving at a deliberate tempo.

The Necks are touring Australia and North America in the coming months, and I highly recommend seeing them if that is an option. The group consistently provides an exhilarating exploration of modern jazz-inflected improv. In the mean time, Three arrives on March 27.

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