The NecksCover photo - Tim Williams

What are The Necks; (other than something to come between the head and the shoulders)?

Yes, yes: we all know they’re ‘one of the great cult bands of Australia’; muso’s musos. (It’s probably nigh-on impossible to get a pass mark in jazz studies, from any con, without following their long-awaited tour.)

Are they Australia’s avant-garde vanguard? Doyens of improvised music? Jazz? Trance? Ambient? New age (God forbid)? Yay, verily. And so much more: the sum of their parts and then some!

After, apparently, an avoidably delayed start (people who purchased tickets in row A would’ve been understandably peeved to find there was no row A, so re-allotment of latecomers took quite some time) and the invasion, after the lights went down, of (yet more) inconsiderate tardies (shame on you, Riverside, for allowing the few to interrupt the reverie of the many, to say nothing of the staff member who saw fit to mutter to another during exceptionally quiet passages), we were finally able to settle-in and deep-down.

There’s no disputing The Necks are veritable monarchs of minimalism: what they can do with only two or three notes could make the SSO hock all their instruments on ebay.

These days, it takes more than Heath Ledger can swallow to chill me out, yet I found myself relaxed, if not necessarily comfortable; captive to the slow-building crescendos for which Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) are justifiably renowned. Not necessarily altogether comfortable because, as my perspicacious companion pointed-out, one can be transported, yet tormented, waiting for the levee of outpouring emotion to break. When it did, in the first half, said companion released a stream of tears: as good a guide as any, and far better than most, to what this totemic trio is capable of. Theirs isn’t mere toe-tapping jazz, but transcendent, unclassifiable pseudo-orchestral classicism; potent, for the patient.

Of course, not all of us, especially in the digital age, have patience, which explains the handful of walkouts. To me, though, these were reassuring; confirming I was in the right place, at the right time, hearing the right music. Pearls before swine! Think about it: Mozart died a desperate pauper; Wilde was vilified; not everyone likes foie gras.

To labour the metaphor, The Necks are three perfect peaches, in a basketful of plastic fruit. While hordes bite down on Britney, a few of us have realized the redolent, succulent, soul-soothing aural reward of instrumental innovation, at it’s most subtle and sublime. A few minutes after hearing retro-referenced pop tune on your iPod, you realize you’re musical appetite has in no way been appeased; after an hour or so with The Necks, you’re fully alive to the fact you’ve been (cerebrally) satisfied, first, from the neck up, and, then, made glad all over (viscerally), from the neck, down. Yes, The Necks play both kinds of music, and all at once!

13 albums; 2 Arias; purveyors of APRA’s Most Performed Jazz Work, in triplicate and the Australian Jazz Awards’ Best Jazz Group for the last 2 years. But even those achievements can’t begin to encompass the unparalleled, empathic mastery of Abrahams, Swanton & Buck, who, with each performance, confirm their individual talents, collective sensibility and implicit understanding of words like restraint (less is more), originality, boldness and, though they might sound as if mutually exclusive, grace and humility. There’s certainly no place for orthodoxy amidst the tumult of this genre-bending genius.

I can only but echo The Guardian: “Entirely new and entirely now”.

Riverside Theatres and Top Shelf present
The Necks

Venue: Lennox Theatre, Corner Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
Date/Time: Saturday 9 February at 7.30pm
Tickets: Adults $36, Concession $32, 30 & Under $28
Big Noter Prices: Adults $32, Concession $28, 30 & Under $24
Bookings: Riverside Box Office 02 8839 3399 or

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