The Necks @ LVL5 at RCC, Adelaide 21/2/2020

The RCC venue LVL 5 usually being a standing venue has seating in place tonight so for those not coming early they have to stand at the back but some younger dedicated audience members have chosen to sit on the floor down front appearing to almost worship at the altar of their idols.

At the commencement of two complementing but also contrasting sets, while his band mates stand idle, motionless, Chris Abrahams takes the lead with a simple repeated piano motif before Lloyd Swanton pulls his bow from the quiver on the front of his bass bringing to mind reaching into a bag of arrows. Tony Buck on drums chimes in last with twinkling percussion like random raindrops and gradually incorporates brushes to invoke a scraping squeal.

As the piece progresses and these initial vamps dissolve and reform into something else, the meditative quality of the piece invites thought and consideration. It is commonly overlooked that piano is actually a percussion instrument and this brings to mind that perhaps what the audience is experiencing is some kind of primordial drum and bass (and bear in mind that beside their collaborations with chamber orchestras they have in recent times worked with dub experimentalists Underworld).

There is a build to discordance and the sound of almost reverb alone that is the musical equivalent of grey goo before something rises out of the enveloping formlessness. Although it is the antithesis of a cappella, somewhere amongst the mechanical rhythms of muted industrial sound you can almost hear things like the buzz of choral monks or a slowed down car alarm. The piece comes to a gradual close with Abrahams playing what sounds like a broken piano reminiscent of Thelonious Monk, while Swanton and Buck slow their playing into a manual fade out.

Afterwards, I ponder how to put words down to describe something that is ultimately wordless and have to discuss something else entirely unrelated with the gentleman sitting beside me just to cleanse the palate before the next aural onslaught.

This second piece is commenced by Buck with minimalist percussion before Swanton joins with his playing sounding like an orchestral tune up. This time they appear to take turns at the beginning of the piece before all three come together to combine their efforts into a cohesive whole. This piece comes across as more structured with each of the players more in line with each other in contrast to the soloing prevalent in the first set. There is an anticipatory element to their repeated motifs coming around again and again (in Buck’s case it’s the regular ding of what sounds like an attendance bell and a percussive nut crunch) with the piece evoking a circulatory feel that moves into discordance and then back again until the chaos entirely takes hold. The volume increases significantly and there is more a wall of sound than during the first set when early on you could actually hear the air conditioner hum. In contrast to the first piece, this second piece ends with a sudden halt.

You can consider what the music of The Necks is but even after you experience them live or recorded (as either way with some exceptions the pieces are renowned as spontaneous and improvised) you are prompted to ask: is this jazz or something else? Does it really matter? There are problems with categorisation and placing something into a box and if that metaphorical box is like the one with Schrodinger’s cat inside then when that box is opened, maybe whatever you though was inside is something else entirely. Obviously in this instrumental line up of piano, bass and drums they are derived from a jazz tradition but as Miles Davis once famously said of his music, “Call it anything”.

Fringe Review By Jason Leigh