Tag Archives: Chris Abrahams


Tony Buck

Tony Buck at The Corner Hotel.

REVIEW: The Necks, The Corner Hotel, Tuesday 29 January 2013
Chris Abrahams piano, Tony Buck drums and percussion, Lloyd Swanton bass

Adrian Jackson, in a 1998 review of James Fielding’s three-CD set Notes From the Underground, noted that the keyboard player’s ensemble work “rewards attention”.

That’s surely particularly apt for any performance by The Necks, because the band’s unplanned, set-long improvisations consist of incremental changes that emerge almost imperceptibly from sustained patterns. Close attention is required.

When I heard The Necks previously at The Corner, each of three shows was sold out. I don’t believe that pattern has been repeated this year, but there were plenty of diehard fans ready to take their seats and listen attentively to two sets of about 50 minutes each.

On the previous occasion, as I recall, in each set there was a slow build to a climax that was obviously cathartic for the fans, who had queued to get into what seemed like a temple of worship. It was impossible not to be caught up in the accumulating tension and in the release.

Afterwards I reflected on the irony that these sessions of free improvisation followed such a clear pattern. Yet the audience reaction was immediate and positive — they loved it. And, while the end of each set was similarly tumultuous, the process of arriving there was quite different. The revel, let’s say, was in the detail.

There was less of the climactic in the two sets on Tuesday. They were quite different in approach. I was more transported by the second.

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton at The Corner Hotel.

Set one seemed to be about creating a whole, bringing about cohesion, so that the band’s energy gradually became centred and self-perpetuating, feeding off itself.

From time to time, as changes occurred, my attention shifted to one instrument — the bass more insistent, the piano’s growl, the chime of a bell. But as rhythmic patterns were established and textural landscapes built, the development process seemed so subtle as to be almost suspended for periods.

Incremental augmentation was the rule. Buck’s drums held it all together, with Swanton’s bass adding talk and Abrahams some keyboard forays as the whole evolved in long, slow, regular undulations.

Eventually the wholeness began to break up, led by oscillations from the bass and some upper register bowed notes. There was a sense of winding down as the drums backed off. With more definition and more space, complemented by fluidity and movement from Abrahams, the set turned back towards its beginning. There was no sense of a cathartic climax, but rather of a unity created and then allowed to dissolve.

The second set was a different kettle of fish, confirming that inventiveness and not only patterns and patience were integral to this band’s way of working.

It began with the drone of bowed bass and the murmur of metal gears moving on the surface of a drum, then the distinctive, airy rattle of a monkey drum. This was less about rhythm and more about an array of sounds.

There were rattlings, rumblings and knocks — discrete contributions in a busy panoply, at times like a jungle at night without the cries. Timbres were richly diverse and interwoven. This was a series of divergent paths rather than a whole.

Buck at the drum kit began to lift the intensity, adding to plucked bass and low piano notes with an insistent shimmering gong-like sound produced with his left foot on a bowl of bells.

Chris Abrahams

Chris Abrahams at The Corner Hotel.

The Necks began to crank up proceedings. Swanton slapped his bass, Abrahams with his left hand maintained a sustained undercurrent as disparate paths began to coalesce into a strong, cyclic pulse.

This is the point at which I felt what firm followers of this band must yearn to experience again and again. As the intensity grew, I wanted to give in to the sound, merge with it and let its energy carry me along. I felt it as warmth, as a life force.

Was this dangerous? Was I in church? Was I in a cathedral of fire? I suspended judgement. I gave in. I sank into the sounds.

After a while there was a backing away, with the piano ushering me back to clarity and awareness. The spell was broken.

But the denouement was slow. Eventually solo piano signaled relief, an awakening, a new day. We were floating somewhere in a gentle breeze.

I would have been content for this set to end there, but it lingered. It seemed as if the band members were not sure whether to begin anew.

That uncertainty meant the music went on a little too long, but it was also a reminder that The Necks do not plan or rehearse. It had been months since they played together and in any musical conversation there must be threads that do not go anywhere and topics that are left unexplored, loose ends.

The Necks did not fill the house on this occasion, but they delivered an experience that definitely rewarded attention.


The Necks on tour:

Thursday 31 January: Corner Hotel, Melbourne, Vic, Australia

Sunday 3 February: Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Wednesday 6 February: Byron Bay Community Centre, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

Thursday 7 February: Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Sunday 10 February: Lizotte’s, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Wednesday 13 February: The Basement, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Thursday 14 February: The Basement, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Saturday 23 February: Sarah Blasko with West Australian Symphony Orchestra – support at Kings Park, Perth, WA, Australia

Friday 22 March: Castlemaine Festival, Castlemaine, Vic, Australia

Saturday 23 March: The Street Theatre, Canberra, ACT, Australia


Overground, Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011
Sunday, June 12, 3pm-9pm, Melbourne Town Hall

Rully Shabara

Arresting: Rully Shabara on vocals

It was late in a solid afternoon of music when the Indonesians invaded. In a day of occasional confusion, with some patrons not quite sure who would be on next and which gigs were running late, musicians needed some drama to make their presence felt. A small but curious crowd had gathered to hear Rully Shabara (voice) and Wukir Suryadi (bamboo instruments) from Yogyakarta, but this soon became a large and intensely interested gathering which pressed forward as if forced by the ferocity of the vocal onslaught.

Rully Shabara

Ferocity: Rully Shabara

We had heard Chiri, in which Bae Il Dong had demonstrated the power and emotive impact of Korean p’ansori singing, so the idea of strong vocals was not new. But the forcefulness of this duo came as a surprise. Hearing Shabara at close range can be likened to having a steam train roaring towards you, though he did vary the dynamics and could move the audience as well as assail. But the main attribute of his voice seemed to be ferocity and the ability to deliver a sudden vocal onslaught that was awe-inspiring and even a little frightening.

According to a post by Marvin on Free Albums Galore,  Rully Shabara is a member of the Indonesian avant-rock/punk group Zoo and Wukir Suryadi is an innovative musician who experiments within the boundaries of the traditional music of Indonesia using a musical instrument he built.

Wukir Suryadi

Amazing: Wukir Suryadi on bambuwukir

Suryadi played two instruments. His primary one — a bambuwukir, constructed (as the name suggests) from bamboo and producing sounds like an electric guitar with built-in percussion — was capable of amazing variation in his skilled hands.


Virtuosic: Wukir Suryadi on bambuwukir

Between Shabara’s vocals, Suryadi erupted into a rock-star-like frenzy that was virtuosic and compelling. It was if he could just touch the instrument to produce a band’s worth of sound. The audience showed appreciation with whoops and wild applause. An excellent description of a Sydney gig by these two musicians is at Sydney Outsider — Java in Waterloo.

Wukir Suryadi

Wukir Suryadi on recorder-like flute

At the end of the set, Suryadi played a long recorder-style flute, which was ideal for the soulful lament delivered by Shabara. For Overground patrons who stayed, this gig must have been a highlight.

Rully Shabara

Soulful lament: Rully Shabara

Should it have been part of a jazz festival? I think so. In the lower town hall Will Guthrie & Cured Pink (if I’ve got the correct gig) had been doing some amazing things with a piece of meat, I’m told. And, Bae Il Dong was a big hit during the festival. Overground is meant to take us out of our comfort zones, which is also what the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival is meant to do. I say, bring it on.

That said, I think Overground needs to work on some improvements. Because there are late changes to the order of gigs, and because concerts inevitably run over time, there ought to be a way for patrons in the main entrance foyer to see at a glance exactly which gigs are on at any moment in each venue — upstairs, downstairs and in the main hall. And I don’t mean gigs scheduled, but those actually on at that time. This would be a challenge to update, but really helpful.

As well, it would be good to have more information available about each band, so that if you have never heard its music you’d be able to make a judgment about where to head if there was a clash. With the crowds that turn up to Overground, it is hard to get into the smaller venues, so some planning is necessary. I do realise the concept is meant to allow patrons to try whatever pops up, but this often leads to a fragmentary experience if you have no idea what to expect.

What else was a highlight on the day? Well, I missed Yoshida Tatsuya and Satoko Fuji, Charlemagne Palestine with Oren Ambarchi, and Tony Conrad with Chris Abrahams. I felt for Matt Mitchell on solo piano, who came on between the Indonesian invasion and Sean Baxter with Jerome Noetinger and Faust (at which time I had to go to catch Paul Grabowsky‘s gig at the Forum).

James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler

James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler

The combination of viola, sax and trumpet  worked well in the set by James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler, and it was a pleasure to hear Noriega again — I love his work. I also enjoyed hearing Anthony Pateras at the piano with Tim Berne on sax and Gareth Thompson on drums.

Sophia Brous with Tim O'Dwyer

Sophia Brous with Tim O'Dwyer

It’s not often that the program director — and principal mover and shaker — at a major international festival is also on the program as a performer, so Sophia Brous’s outing with Judith Hamann on cello, Chris Abrahams on piano and Tim O’Dwyer on sax was a must-see.

Abrahams, Hamann and Brous

Abrahams, Hamann and Brous

My attitude to vocal gymnastics has already taken its toll on Norma Winstone (who, along with all other vocalists who indulge in a little scat, can sleep quite easily at night without my applause for that aspect of their work, I’m sure). But I am reliably informed that Brous is following a path well trod by Maggie Nichols and Julie Tippetts. Here’s a link to Maggie Nicols, Dave Fowler, Phil Minton in a Mopomoso Christmas Special 2009. And here’s a link to Keith and Julie Tippett live in Jazz à Luz in 2007. (I did not discover these links, but received them as an aid to my education.)

Sophia Brous

Mover, shaker and vocalist: Sophia Brous

So, being honest, I preferred this vocal experimentation, especially with the cello, to other instances of what I call “vocal gymnastics”. And, though it may be following an established path, it was stretching my comfort zone, which is always good. But it’s still not really my cup of tea (I don’t drink much tea).

Alex Garsden

Out there: Alex Garsden

The other gig of particular interest was US drummer Ches Smith‘s outing with Jim Denley on sax, Alex Garsden on guitar and Natasha Anderson on “recorder” (though it looked like a laptop to me). Garsden managed some pretty interesting sounds and did some pretty strange things to his guitar’s strings, and Denley had some amazing ways to play a sax and a wooden flute, but Smith’s input was not spectacular compared with his earlier work.

Jim Denley

All we needed to know about sax: Jim Denley

To sum up, Overground was definitely worth doing, and worth attending. But this year I felt that we were missing a Han Bennink or Peter Brotzmann (the stars in 2010) to give the day some focus. Palestine and Conrad are undoubtedly characters, but their performances lacked the action-packed feel of Bennink or Brotzmann’s gigs. That said, I’m certain many punters went away happy — or deaf and happy.