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The Necks, St George’s, Sep 13

September 18, 2012
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We’re away for The Necks, said musically adventurous neighbour, so can you bring back their latest CD for me? That is the part I don’t quite get…  This somewhat jazzy trio’s performances are wholly improvised, and each one is different. There are thousands of live trio recordings which stand the test of repeat listening, of course, but I’ve yet to be convinced theirs are among them.

Live, though, I am more sympathetic now than before this gig. I tried listening to them in Bath last year, at a concert lots of people enjoyed, and was too tired to focus on the music. (OK, I fell asleep). As the music is fairly minimalist, and requires attention to quite small events, this is an ever-present hazard for the middle-aged at an evening gig.

However, row D at St George’s afforded a vantage point which warded off sleep. And it was possible to settle into a slightly different mode of listening. There’s precious little melodic or harmonic movement – the “sound of surprise” this isn’t. So a Neck’s set (always one continuous piece, and somehow always around 45 mins long) is about texture, slow development, and perhaps achieving a pleasurably meditative state or, for all I know, bliss.

Heard with slightly narrowed eyes, as it were, this can seem like a parody of improvised music at its most painfully self-regarding. Unsmiling chaps in black address their instruments very seriously, but also sparingly. Erroll Garner uses more notes in an intro than these guys deploy in an entire concert.

The results are a bit hit and miss, but this evening’s effort – also described here – seemed to work quite well. The second half, which began with a simple plucked bass figure, appealed more than the first, with mainly bowed bass, an endless piano twiddle, and lots of small percussion sounds. The dynamic of both halves was similar – they seem to mainly allow the sound to swell up gradually, then ebb away at the end. Some kind of musical journey occurs, and if you appreciate austere landscapes it is quite a nice one to contemplate for an evening. I’d hate it if many piano trios trod this path – and extended development layered on top of repetition works better for me in the flashier hands of Vijay Iyer or the methodically inventive Craig Taborn. But the antipodean minimalists have their following, and will no doubt keep on ploughing their own particular furrow…

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