The Necks are a virtually unclassifiable piano trio from Sydney Australia. Neither jazz nor rock, this deceptive unit has kept to a single line of conduct — whether recording or performing — throughout its career. Pianist (and sometimes organist) Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton, and drummer Tony Buck usually commence their shows and recording sessions by playing a single, basic, melodic, and rhythmic vamp or figure, that over an extended period of time — usually an hour or so — gradually transforms its shape without ever completely discarding it, amid microscopic tonal, dynamic, electronic, and textural changes, as well as similarly minimal harmonic variations are gradually introduced into the music. By the time any particular piece reaches its nadir, the listener will have been transported to very different head and heart spaces as the music evolves into something else entirely — though all of its root layers are ever present. Some critics have compared them to Krautrock groups like Can and Faust. Others find similarities in the works of minimalist composers like LaMonte Young, Tony Conrad, even Philip Glass. No matter, the Necks exist on a terrain uniquely their own. Whether it is in the gentle, trance-like grooves of 1995's Sex, (issued in the U.S. on the now-defunct, new age-leaning Private Music label, before the group used electronics), the undulating exchange of synth and piano passages in 2003's Drive By, the quaking space rock of the following year's Hanging Gardens, or the dark, brooding, elegantly fractured — and occasionally explosive — interludes on 2015's Vertigo, the Necks never remain (quite) static as they shapeshift all through and around the piano trio format. Over the past three decades, their reputation has spread across the globe as a band that only fits comfortably in its own category.
The Necks were formed in Sydney, Australia in 1987. The original lineup of pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton, and drummer Tony Buck has remained stable, even though they all lead busy and highly divergent careers. Abrahams is an acclaimed session keyboardist who has released a couple of solo piano albums, written music for film and television, and toured the world in 1993 with the rock group Midnight Oil. Swanton is a much in-demand session jazz bassist and a regular on the jazz festival circuit. He has played in the Benders and the Catholics, and accompanied Stephen Cummings and Sting. Buck spends most of his time in avant-garde circles, with multiple collaborations and projects. His best-known engagements have included the trio PERIL and the klezmer-punk group Kletka Red.
The Necks' first album came out in 1989 on their own label, Fish of Milk. The reviews were enthusiastic, most people praising the group's ability to blend simplicity and experimentation. They would play whenever the three musicians were in Australia at the same time. The next three albums experimented with the format, integrating occasional guests (Stevie Wishart on Aquatic), electronics, and more. But, by the 1998 Piano Bass Drums, the recipe had become fixed and would not change anymore.
In 1996, the Private Music label released Sex in the United States. It was the Necks' first exposure on the North American continent and it did not get them far. But Europe was catching on and the group began a series of annual tours there. Piano Bass Drums and the soundtrack for Rowan Woods' film The Boys both received Australian award nominations in 1998. The more energetic, almost space-rocking Hanging Gardens, released in 1999, opened more doors, including a first American tour in late 2001. The album was picked up for distribution by the British avant-garde label ReR Megacorp the same year. Another North American tour in 2002 followed the release of Aether, the group's studio masterpiece. Drive By followed in 2003, and took home the ARIA Music Awards Best Jazz Album prize in 2004.
Subsequent albums Mosquito/See Through (2004), Chemist (2006), Silverwater (2009), and Mindset (2011) continued to bring in the accolades, delivering consistently fresh takes on the trio's signature riffing. In 2013 they released Open which, like its 2015 single-track follow-up Vertigo, saw a return to the long-form improvisation of their earlier works. Arriving in 2017, the ambitious Unfold, a double album on Stephen O'Malley's Ideologic Organ label, it featured four non-sequential tracks (they could be heard in any order) — each is its own suite. During the summer of the following year, the trio issued BODY, their 20th album on Family Vineyard, showcasing a return to the single, long-form improvised work. ~ François Couture