In honour of tomorrow being the day a new album by The Necks gets released this installment of Five Songs For Friday celebrates the music of one of my all-time favourite groups. This year the Aussie trio celebrates 30 years in the game. Thirty years of taking jazz – and specifically the jazz-trio-format – as a template and wandering off into, well, the Aether, taking things fully Open, making astonishing music through improvisation…three hugely talented musicians working together to shape something, to make some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard.
I saw The Necks live in the early 2000s. I’ve been waiting to see them again ever since that night. There I was front row, spellbound. I bought two albums on the spot. And then built up a collection from there, each new album arrives to review now and there are the old ones to go back to. And I love them all. I have particular favourites – the album Drive-By is an easy go-to, a must-have, but I’m interested in every note of music they’ve made – and therefore also interested in the silence, the notes they’ve chosen to not play. Here’s five “songs” for Friday, a Necks starter-kit…
We’ll start with the band’s debut album, the most jazz-like, the most overtly jazz-ish, as tinkling piano and nuzzling bass work against the steady pulse of a ride cymbal. Released in 1989 it might have blown minds or largely been ignored, I don’t know. I do know that as the band’s reputation grew people want to go back and hear how they started. And you’d be silly not to. It’s all here – in terms of the template. The sound changes with each album, but the elements are right here. (Same with the live album, Piano Bass Drums – which was one of the first I heard).
2. The Boys I
It’s the usual trick that a Necks album is one song, usually around 45 minutes to an hour, sometimes as long as 70 minutes. But there are a few albums that mess with that format. They can do shorter pieces too. And here is where I found out I’d heard The Necks before I knew who they were. They provided the soundtrack to a tough, wonderful Australian film, The Boys. I watched a preview copy of this movie – the girl in the upstairs flat was a journo student and was interviewing the lead actor, she loaned me the VHS tape preview-screener. And I was mesmerised. The music sucked me in. But I never caught what it was on the credits. Soon as I got that taste of The Necks from that gig I was off to read anything and everything about them. Next purchase was a copy of the soundtrack for The Boys. Next screening was a re-watch of the movie. The way this group sets up tension/s and places with (and in and around) space it’s a no-brainer they’d score movies. I’d like to hear further film scores from The Necks.
My favourite album of 2013. One of the best ‘ambient’-type albums I’ve heard ever. A little bit of Satie, Eno, Jarrett, Bill Evans all rolled up into one; I have listened to this so many times. It is slow to start and different from a lot of The Necks’ earlier albums in that we barely hear the drums for several minutes. Okay, there’s some cling-clanging percussion, but no defined pulse. It isn’t quite free but it certainly drifts and wafts. I’ve sat wide-eyed, wide-awake with this album and I’ve drifted off to sleep with this album – soundtrack for the strangest, loveliest dreams. Here’s my review from the time of release.
Mosquito is one half of a double album, Mosquito/See Through, two separate album-length pieces. I love the whole album but this one has something crepuscular about it, something I’ve found in pianist Chris Abrahams’ solo albums. All three players get to shine here, and yet all three players are working only and ever for the greater good of the full, finished piece.
5. Rum Jungle
For the band’s 2011 album Mindset they created something specifically for the vinyl format – two separate pieces, one for each side, two 20/ish-minute pieces of music, unconnected as such, bound only by the fact that it was the same three players and they were housing these tracks on the same record; two sides of a coin. Rum Jungle is side one (side two is the quieter, more contemplative Daylights). I spent a lot of time with this record – the split-side-thing didn’t quite gel immediately, then I realised it was great to listen to one side and walk away, return later for a quite different experience. A different way of listening to vinyl than the usual whole-album-at-a-time way of doing things. Of course once fully familiar it was great to have the light/shade, the contrast. Rum Jungle just bursts out of the blocks though, about as free – at least in the process of ‘composing’ – as I’ve ever heard The Necks.
So, there you go, five little starters, teasers…there are whole albums I love that I haven’t mentioned. If you’re very lucky you might still be able to find the four-album live boxset or you might want to hear the penultimate record, Vertigo. I loved that one too – as my review will tell you. I’m looking forward to hearing Unfold, the 2017 Necks record – a double LP (w/ digital download code). I’m forever hopeful we’ll see them back in New Zealand, would be wonderful to hear this band in its 30-year celebration; remarkable to think they’ve managed that feat. All of course without compromise. They remain one of the most inspiring bands I’ve ever heard (and seen).