Starting with a fully active jazz-oriented rhythm, the (arguably) 24th album (I count the download-only live releases as albums) from Australian trio The Necks of Chris Abrahams on piano & keyboards, Tony Buck on drums, percussion & guitar, and Lloyd Swanton on acoustic bass enter a powerful groove that lasts for the first 20 minutes of this almost hour-long improvisation. It's familiar and yet different than their previous albums; elusive and compelling music that sweeps one along in a complex, generally optimistic, and entrancing drive of dynamic playing.
The band winds down quite suddenly around the 20 minute mark for an almost-ambient moment of free playing, spacious and warm interactions buoyed by Abraham's swirling electric piano and recurring chords, as Swanton anchors the moment with a strong bass pulse. The keys slowly build as percussionist Buck adds tension on the cymbals, and suddenly the band snaps alive into a rocking groove. Like any great rock piece, the repetition that often characterizes The Neck's approach is a wonderful tapestry of textures, sly riffs and psychedelic asides. Tony Buck takes up the guitar through this section, and the music is nearly shamanic as it propels the listener's mind, easily lifting you to your feet in a euphoric dance.
After an extended section of strong rhythmic propulsion, as quickly as the groove manifested, it dissolves, and at 40 minutes the trio enter the ether with chiming notes and a distant lament. A sense of stillness and awe develops, broken only by disruptive percussive displays. It's as though the sun has descended and the stars peer out, while in the distant darkness something dangerous lurks. It's beautiful and daunting at the same time, a moody and majestic sense of drama and tension that builds and releases, builds and releases.
Northern Spy explains that the band chose 10 words and phrases that summarize the four richly contrasting episodes of this hour-long, mesmerizing groove: Episodic, Driving, Dynamic, Layered, Celebratory, Soaring, Rocking out, Buoyant, Sustained, Perfectly paced. It's easy to hear all ten in the resulting album. I would add that it's also the nearly instantaneous changes in direction, the nearly telepathic decisions that allow this trio to seemingly move as one, that startle and delight the listener. Pairing that with masterful playing honed by more than 20 years of performance and studio experience, one can understand why this band continues to captivate and excite through their music. Embracing acoustics & electronics, jazz, rock and free improvisation, the band blends a seductive set of intertwining ideas they execute effortlessly. The consistency in their music and their endurance as a working unit is absolutely impressive, as is this latest release.
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