Struggling to find the right words with which to describe a performance by the Necks, a writer can’t be faulted for veering off-road. The long-running Australian improvising trio, which celebrated its 30th anniversary with a three-concert series at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn February 22-25, consistently lives up to the hoary adage “more than meets the eye” – and, as compared to its impressive string of 18 albums, “more than meets the ear,” too. Live, believe me, the group’s impact encourages gonzo.
One word that comes to mind, useful despite its limitations, is elemental. The fundamental building blocks with which Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton, and Tony Buck work are, respectively, piano, acoustic bass, and percussion – a canonical jazz-trio configuration since basically always. Yet there’s little traditional about the Necks; elemental serves as well as any word to describe the fundamental energies manifest in a given performance.
Thursday’s concert offered what appeared to be a prime opportunity to figure out just how the Necks work: a solo set from each member, followed with a group performance. Two more trio sets would follow on Friday night; during Saturday’s show, which I was unable to attend, disparate guests – Andrea Parkins, Ned Rothenberg, Nate Wooley, David Watson, Ira Kaplan, Kato Hideki, Shelley Hirsch, and Joshua Abrams – would enter the Necks’ matrix throughout a continuous six-hour span. (The trio had also participated in a Q&A and performed for an Issue Project Room benefit concert on Tuesday.)
Instead of isolating the Necks’ constituent building blocks for easy perception, what the solo sets demonstrated was each player’s striking individuality, and the completeness of the alchemical transformation when the three combine. From behind his drum kit, Buck fashioned atonal murk on electric guitar, while at center stage a robotic carousel dragged beads and mallets hung from spindly arms across gongs and other noisemakers scattered on the floor.