You never forget your first love… at least until the second one comes in.

After all, you know that in musical research, fidelity and infidelity are intertwined in an inextricable knot and, even if love for your beloved artists is profound and sincere, in the end you are always ready for a new flirt. Every time you hit the Play button and listen to a new artist you are looking for another infatuation. When time passes and you can’t remember anymore how many discs you have listened to,  these moments that are capable of satisfying our emotional restlessness seem to become more and more rare.

But then … it happens … suddenly, when you don’t expect it anymore.

As in life, even in music the first meeting with an artist may be only a fleeting moment. Maybe you feel something, but for one reason or another you haven’t time to get deeper into this feeling. But the fire is still buried under the ashes. This is what happened to me with The Necks. I  listened to the first track of “Unfold” in 2017 and after that I put the trio in the list “interesting, but to listen more carefully” and there it remained, hidden among the other numerous components of the same list. However when I finally had the chance to meet them again with “Body”, the ice finally melted. At the end of that album it was clear that those 56 minutes of pure trance represented only the start of a long journey into the Necks discography.
As my friend Dixon (a slow paced completist) says,: “It’s nice to know that there’s another record of … … to listen to” and in this respect the Necks is the ideal group. When you go forward through their music you are taking a journey that appears to be 20 records long but it’s actually potentially infinite. Indeed their works prove to be iridescent creatures able to unveil unusual details with every new meeting and lend themselves to be listened to from different point of view and in different ways that are always stimulating.
And this article is born during this wandering with the purpose to answer to this simple question: “why do I like them?” The aim is not to give a strictly critical and musicological interpretation of the work of the Australian group formed by Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck, but to wonder, as a simple listener, about his nature (so fleeing, however), about its founding pillars and about  the ultimate reasons for which it marked such a deep sign inside me.

Here is the result of this investigation: the 9 (at least until today) reasons why I love The Necks.

Mutant Piano trio; the Australian group show up as a classic jazz  piano trio. And the Necks are not really jazz but someone has called them the best trio on earth …. No, it’s not me but it’s Geoff Dyer, author among other things of the magnificent “But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz”,on the NYT. The first and fleeting encounter with  “Unfold” had generated the idea (which, as we will see later, will prove to be superficial) of a trio that was based on the ethereal and abstract sound typical of ECM label. But when I listened to their albums I realized that they were not at all like that and most of all they were much more than that: a trio that only maintains the aspect of the traditional formation. Paraphrasing the words that Simon Reynolds (to whom I humbly say sorry for the benevolent “snatch”) uses to describe post-rock, it could be said that the three musicians use jazz instruments for non-jazz purposes using the piano to create timbres and textures rather than themes and solos. For this reason we can say that, acting on the foundations of classical formation, the trio become a genetic mutation of it

– Elusiveness reading articles, interviews and reviews the fact that their music is refractory to classification clearly stands out. The are defined in many disparate ways, from smooth jazz (but you have to be bold to say that…) to ambient, from post-jazz (and we return to Reynolds’s comparison …) to avant, but the impression I got after reading was that all these definitions were only useless stretches. Listening to their music fully confirmed this feeling. The Necks are elusive and none of these attempts to cage them really work. Their music is a rare beast, capable of escaping the reassuring taxonomic fury that humanity seem  to cling to.

Organic music Now that I’m in middle of this journey I would describe their sound as “organic music”. Their music seems to live a life of its own, as if authors were only the instruments through which it operates. Listening to a Necks album is like observing continuously the growth of a living being. You feel a continuous and microscopic change, as you gradually get used to the evolution of the macroscopic framework. Everything changes even if it does not seem to change in the meantime. Differences, on the other hand, appear evident and are perceived more strongly only when you look at the creature just occasionally.

– Complex but not complicated music, cerebral but not intellectual. It may seem a paradox when you think about the monolithic structure with which it shows but, when compared to most of free improvisation, Necks’ music is definitely more accessible and less elitist than it may appear. Certainly it requires dedication, time and patience, but it is a music that doesn’t need not be understood, but rather to be lived. It does not require interpretation, but only simple surrender. It is a music that was not meant to be played in public at the beginning, but then the hidden and intimate thread that united the musicians has expanded and transformed into a silent and empathetic link that connects audience and performers in a collective harmony.

– Different but same Even in the Necks loyalty and infidelity are intertwined, but there is never betrayal. Individuals in fact explore the surrounding world with side projects and when they come back together they bring with them the wealth of this different experience. These experiences are then filtered and interpreted through the cyclic sound of the group and fermented thanks to the subtle balance that is established between free improvisation and rigid conceptual structure that rules interaction between the musicians. The result is a vital and constantly evolving music that never betrays its own identity. In short, always different but always equal to itself.
Bassist Lloyd Swanton says “There’s something about what we do that always makes us sound like The Necks – there’s an element that’s stable and not improvised.”
You can say that, by using the grammar of other musical languages ​​with its own syntax, the trio manages to create not only a music but a language that is highly recognizable and often unheard.

– Music of subconscious, one of my first impressions after listening to “Body” and then confirmed by the rest of the discography is that it is an adventurous music without being aggressive; a dilated music to which surrender to, which bypasses the most rational part to insinuate itself into subconscious, inducing a state between wakefulness and lucid dream. A matter in which you can plunge and that is sometimes ethereal, other obscure, sometimes soft, other angular. Unlike other “travel” music (such as ambient and psychedelia) it does not evoke other places but an inner space in which you can travel, without ever losing the awareness of his surroundings. A sort of parallel and hyperreal dimension that helps to focus on your own thoughts.

– ” We always solo, We Never Solo” by halving the famous phrase by Joe Zawinul about  Weather Report you get what may appear just a banality but it really describes the extraordinariness of these three Australians: they are musicians able to improvise and demonstrate their skills without perform any real solo. There is never virtuosity for its own sake, but only purest Interplay. Even the most complicated parts are always functional to the whole. For example, pianist Chris Abrahams is a master in creating piano patterns: he plays with notes and with the space between them, a bit like you can do with numbers. Adds, subtracts and exchanges factors, slowly transforming simple expressions into complex ones and vice versa. Tony Buck is an explorer of rhythm, able to fathom every ravine even when he gets near to silence. For example, his work with cymbals shows a truly unusual rhythmic sensibility. In this respect I find in Buck an ideal closeness to whom in my opinion was one of the greatest drum poets, Paul Motian. Most surprising of the three, however, is double bass player Lloyd Swanton, who is capable of showing his ability by repeating the same (apparently) simple sequence of notes or hypnotizing using a single note. (Joking it can be said that Swanton plays  in the entire discography of the Necks few notes than Chris Squire in a single song of Yes …) Swanton brings the bass back to its essential and primal role. The role of beating, of vital pulsation (so we return to the concept of organic music). Sometimes the instrument seems to disappear but, like the heart, even when we you do not feel its existence, it does not stop to play its essential function.

Risk: looking for news about them I came across a criticism according to which one of the problems of the trio was that, they did not take as many risks as the rest of free improvisation musicians. I do not know if exploring and searching for infinite variations within a territory delimited by the cyclicity is just as difficult as doing that into the large space that the classic free improvisation offers … You probably have to ask a musician. From listener point of view, in my experience, the greatest risk in free improvisation is to get lost, to lose the thread that binds the user and the performers. But which are the risks that The Necks take? In my opinion the biggest challenge of the trio is is not be  boring. Looking for infinite variations in an extended period of time, working on the details without transmitting to interlocutor a sensation of stasis, without giving the impression of being “bogged down” and going around in circles. For me this is an equally fascinating and stimulating challenge, both for performers and for listeners.

– Freedom : It is an argument that can be done for all free improvisation music, but in the Necks I find a particular incarnation of that because of the pact and the basic rules that voluntarily and reciprocally  keep the musicians tied to the scope of action. Their music conveys an authentic and deep sense of freedom. Each component can not simply do what it wants. Every choice, every note is an act of responsibility and at the same time of abandon to the others. Only this mutual attitude allows music to be really free and collective, not a mere sum of individual performances.
Abrahams himself underlines this concept: “Speaking personally, much of the playing I’d done before was individualistic – very much in the jazz soloist mould. We wanted to create a sound that wasn’t actually individual.” .
The beginning of each of their performances assumes in this respect a symbolic meaning: the absolute and respectful silence that surrounds the trio and audience before the performance is broken every time, without warning and in a non-predetermined way, by one of the three that takes “freely” the initiative by starting the improvisation flow.

These are my reasons (at least until today…) but, I am sure, that the music that they give us in the future and relistening to their albums will provide us other very valid reasons to take a dive into their art. So maybe in the future this article will be updated in 9 + N reasons, containing mine and why not those that maybe someone would want to share with us … ..

WARNINGS: The discography of the group is wide and diversified, so I put a brief descriptive comment for each album. Ratings range from MUST HAVE to FOR COMPLETISTS and they are related to the value within their discography. The choices are always arbitrary, but never as in this case given the high average level and the heterogeneity of the works. According to the components  the disks are often born as a reaction to the previous one. So my invitation is not to stop at the first disc you play, but to proceed anyway. I also indicate the best for starters. A note also about the availability, unfortunately not easy or expensive, especially for the records of the first period.

Sex (1989)> ESSENTIAL. debut and archetype of the minimalistic track of the Necks; the starting point is a simple jazz theme executed in a cyclic manner with infinite variations and without a real crescendo; the band immediately shows its features. The disc requires a total adhesion to the music in order not to appear a sterile and exhausting repetition. It is their best-selling record, but I advise you not to start from here;

Next (1990)> FOR COMPLETISTS the album seems an attempt not to be caged in the formula of Sex and is divided into several pieces. Even with some pearl (the 28 minutes of Pele) this disc, in my opinion, is not able to show the real essence of the group;

Aquatic (1994)> GOOD. divided into two pieces, the group returns to unearth the search for infinite progression; not one of the best but still valid;

Silent Night (1995)> RECOMMENDED. an interesting double disc consisting of nocturnal and cinematographic atmospheres mixed with samples in Black and the obsessive reiteration of White;

The Boys (Music for the Feature Film) (1998)> ESSENTIAL. an anomaly in their discography; a soundtrack divided into several pieces that manage to be effective even without images. This time the short songs are able to capture the soul of the trio;

Piano Bass And Drums (1998)> ESSENTIAL. First live show, an exasperated progression up to the limits of a jazz-style groove;

Hanging Gardens (1999)> MUST HAVE; an hour lasting reiterated groove, mixed with Davisian atmospheres to the “In Silent Way” and rhythmic temptations borrowed from drum’n’bass;

Aether (2001)> MUST HAVE: an hour long journey from silence to ecstasy with a mesmeric climax; the art of subtlety and of the imperceptible crescendo never finds its realization as in here.

Athenaeum, Homebush, Quay & Raab (2002)> ESSENTIAL. Monumental and polymorphic quadruple live, photographing the band in its eclecticism and in the extraordinary ability to always be different and same;

Photosynthetic (2003)> GOOD. This is the record that seems to be less able to put the intensity of their concerts into disc even if it’s still very interesting;

Drive By (2003)> MUST HAVE. The record resumes the extreme repetition of Sex in a different way, and this time they push it to their highest levels; short repeated sequences appearing and disappearing, samplings resting on a seemingly simple rhythm but always in constant evolution, dub influences and a disturbing atmosphere;

Mosquito / See Through (2004)> RECOMMENDED. One of their most difficult records that goes to the limits of their research, infusing a few minutes of silence to the music;

Chemist (2006)> ESSENTIAL, ideal for starters: perhaps the most accessible disc taht contains three tracks with strong post-rock references;

Townsville (2007)> RECOMMENDED. In this live disc Abrahams piano slowly turns into an infinite cascade of notes;

Silverwater (2009)> ESSENTIAL. the Necks reach their “cosmic” record. the references to German music are not direct but the atmosphere and the expansive attitude seem to recall it;

Mindset (2011)> RECOMMENDED. One of the most vehement discs (the first track) and obscure (the second one). I recommend listening to him as one of the last;

Open (2013)> ESSENTIAL. It perfectly recreates the rarefied sounds of Aether, but with a more ecstatic and contemplative attitude. The central climax of transcendent beauty is one of the peaks in their entire discography;

Vertigo (2015)> ESSENTIAL. the most abstract and angular disc of the Necks. You have to listen to it many times to get into it but it’s totally worth it;

Unfold (2017)> RECOMMENDED. the size of the double vinyl leads to four long pieces ranging from jazz abstractions to the typical millimetric progressions of the trio;

Body (2018)> ESSENTIAL, ideal for starters. One of the best in 2018; a long piece divided into four sections, ranging from ethereal to an unprecedented hardness in the accelerated and almost rock section in the middle.