Wild Mercury Sound

The Necks: "Townsville"

John Mulvey

I've been gently kicking myself for the past few days after discovering The Necks were playing a couple of shows just down the road from me in Dalston. By the time I tried to get tickets on Sunday afternoon, they'd long sold out. Their new album, "Townsville", is compensation of a kind, but it also makes me regret missing them more than ever.

The Necks, I should explain, are a bass/drums/piano trio from Sydney who are usually referred to as jazz, though they strike me as being far too mystical and evasive a band for such a reductive label. As far as I can tell, they turn up at a venue or a studio, set up and then roll out an improvised piece that usually lasts for about an hour. This one, "Townsville", is a live recording from a place of the same name in Thuringowa, Northern Queensland.

I guess the idea of totally improvised music usually suggests freeform abstractions, but one of the many things that's fascinating about The Necks is their absolute rigour and restraint. Like some of the other music by them that I have (there are loads of albums, but "Mosquito/See Through" and "Drive By" are ones I can authoritatively recommend), this is gentle and insidious music that's not a million miles away from an acoustic rendering of something ambient: Eno circa "Music For Airports", maybe.

But what drives it are the rapturous piano flurries of Chris Abrahams, that remind me of some of Alice Coltrane's sparser playing. I was going to compare them, too, to repeatedly breaking waves in a slightly cliched fashion, then I read the press release use the same metaphor very elegantly. "It's like watching the ocean as wave follows wave," someone from the label, ReR Megacorp, notes, "each the same; each different - assymmetric."

In an office just behind the Tate Modern, on a cold November morning, it provides a very restful beginning to the day: one of those records which has a truly captivating subtlety, that initially suggests predominantly ambient uses, but draws you in. After a while, I find myself distracted and entranced by it, concentrating on how Abrahams minutely alters his playing at every pass, how he heads towards a kind of resolution that can take an age to finally arrive. It's incredibly controlled, intuitive and absorbing music, and I can't recommend it enough. Sink in.


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