The Necks Aether Review

Album. Released 2002.  

BBC Review

Australian trio the Necks stretch out with a 64 minute piece...

Peter Marsh 2002

'Play half', was the enigmatic instruction Miles Davis often used to give bewildered members of his band when he felt they were overplaying or going through the motions. Whether any of them found this advice useful or not is open to question, but the music of Australian trio the Necks seems to be a pretty exquisite summation of that rather zen like idea.

Over the last fifteen years or so they've forged a kind of reductionist improv that has few comparisons. Drummer Tony Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton and keyboardist Chris Abrahams are all seasoned jazzers; Swanton and Abrahams formed half of wonderfully energetic post boppers The Benders, where Abrahams' muscular, choppy piano was the main voice. Meanwhile Buck has played abstract improv with Otomo Yoshihide, but the Necks' music is a world away from such hyperactivity.

Drawing from systems music, electronica and rock, the Necks re-engineer the jazz keyboard trio into a tone generator, improvising with texture and space rather than notes and chords. And big spaces too; the band are in it for the long haul, playing pieces that usually clock in at around an hour. These durations are crucial to the music, mainly because The Necks are masters of structure. This is even more apparent on Aether, which strips away the cyclical grooves of previous outings to be their most minimal offering yet.

Opening with a repeated, massively spaced chord, Aether unfolds itself slowly, deliberately. Repeated piano figures, occasional bass pulse, bells, cymbal wash and organ shimmers appear and disappear, eventually building to a glowing Reichian throb of tom toms and hammering piano. They marry the open spaces and luscious textures of Eno's Music for Airports with the warmth of improvised playing with sensitivity, intelligence and stamina.

In much the same way as Davis' "He Loved him Madly" or Coltrane's "Ascension", Aether is a totally immersive experience. Though they're playing with just a single chord, subtle nuances, additions and subtractions tease out new beauties within it throughout the piece. By the end, it's possible to believe that it's the only chord that ever existed, and any other music sounds hopelessly verbose. Aether's 64 minutespass by with the ease of seconds but each are as elemental as the phases of the moon. Brilliant.

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