Tag Archives: The Necks


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


MJFF/MJC Transitions Series, Tuesday, May 3, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club

Simon Barker drums, Carl Dewhurst guitar, Matt McMahon piano, Phil Slater trumpet

Megg Evans welcomes the Five foursome

Megg Evans welcomes the Five foursome to Bennetts Lane

Bringing the Band of Five Names to Melbourne was a coup for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival and bound to be a highlight of a program that included the premiere local performance of Andrea Keller‘s Place and a commission work by Fran Swinn featuring aerialist Rockie Stone. But what is the attraction of this band? What is the nature of its appeal?

Carl Dewhurst

Carl Dewhurst

I welcome suggestions, because answers will differ depending on the listener. To me it has to do with an unfolding story, a sense of development, and the exciting prospect of not knowing what will emerge. That could be said of a lot of improvised music, but in the case of this band there is a real feeling of it being evolutionary in a gestational way. It’s not quite the same as listening to The Necks, perhaps because there is an absence of expectation of any climactic outcome. Audiences love that anticipation in a Necks gig that what may start slowly will heat up and provide that carthartic pleasure or relief that comes from tension slowly building and inviting release.

Simon Barker and Phil Slater

Simon Barker and Phil Slater

The Band of Five Names seems to put us right into the moment by taking away the “what if” factor and inviting acceptance of what will be. We care not whether it is planned or unplanned, whether there will be catharsis or not. The band draws us into what is happening, what is emerging, and keeps us there because it is so interesting. And that’s the key second factor in the appeal. Without any apparent stress, the musicians are watchful — not unusual at all, of course, in any improvised music — and responsive, but relaxed about that. Maybe they know where they are going because they’ve been there, or somewhere similar, a hundred times before; maybe they don’t know what is going to happen until a series of notes from one member of the band sets them on a new track. I don’t care. It’s interesting because you can watch that responsiveness at work. If it’s like anything it is maybe akin to hearing Lost and Found, with Paul Grabowsky, Jamie Ohelers and Dave Beck. Or GEST8.

Three of the Band of Five Names

Three of the Band of Five Names

So what sorts of musical moments made up the first set, which was titled Curtain? A fragmentary account would recall Dewhurst nursing or coaxing notes from his guitar, notes that evolve into a high, sustained ringing. Slater breathes through his horn into the mic, removing slides at times to adjust the air flow. McMahon is plucking at the piano strings, sending twangs into the room. Slater lets his note gradually develop intensity, force and penetration, with Barker gentle at the back. There is a trumpet break-out, a flaring up of trumpet. There is a guitar break-out, a fiery surge of strings. McMahon mumbles gently on the keys. The trumpet again exudes breaths. McMahon is so careful with his notes, as if he’s tiptoeing. Momentarily the drums and cymbals swell and die away. There is a period of what feels like reverie.

McMahon and Dewhurst

McMahon and Dewhurst

I was only able to stay for the first set, which I therefore believe was far too short — probably not much more than 30 minutes. That was a great pity, but I was sure the second set would be longer and most likely even more fulfilling that the first.

Carl Dewhurst

Carl Dewhurst

There was a reasonable crowd at Bennetts Lane in the big room, but the Band of Five Names deserves more. Let’s hear them in “Melbs” (scare quotes used courtesy of Tim Stevens) very soon. Well done MJFF, the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative and, to be fair, the band.

Matt McMahon

Matt McMahon

Barker and Slater

Barker and Slater



THE saxophonist leading The Andy Sugg Group is a quite different beast from his fiery free-jazz incarnation with Kris Wanders. In a recording taken at the end of a long season at the Brunswick Green Hotel, Sugg’s ensemble of Daniel Gassin (keys), Nashua Lee (guitar), Thom Mann (drums) and Michael Story (bass) delivers detailed and delicate fusion.

Sugg’s originals are layered and incremental, but the feel is relaxed, with none of the developmental tension displayed by The Necks. The appeal is in the obvious synergy, with each member of the group feeling free to contribute alongside others in varied absorbing entanglements.

It would have been nice to hear more of Mann and Story — as in Blah — and perhaps some fiery Sugg, but this is a valued testament to nights in Brunswick.

File between: John Coltrane, Weather Report

Download: Blah, Tower Road


This review also appeared in the Play liftout of the Sunday Herald Sun, Melbourne on January 9, 2011