“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Oh right…, I am not really referring to the court of justice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland here. The quote stands for how to approach the latest work of The Necks which sooner or later will take to Wonderland. Are you ready to jump into the rabbit hole?
The Necks have been creating abstract jazz since 1987. The trio, consisting of Australians Chris Abrahams (keys), Tony Buck (drums) and Lloyd Swanton (guitar/bass) are renowned for their hypnotic repetitive arrangements on stage. During forty to sixty minute live sets improv is their usual standard. There are no rules and beforehand agreements, it’s solely about the music evolving. After about three decades in the scene Abrahams et al never stopped innovating. Their fifteenth studio album, carrying the title Unfold, still sounds fresh and offers more than a few mesmerizing moments.
The double LP of Unfold has four unnumbered sides each holding a track. By doing so The Necks leave it up to listeners on how to approach the album and thus, looking back at the Lewis Carroll quote, has undefined beginnings, is far from linear from that moment on and eventually stops somewhere. Luckily we don’t need to jump into void for this review because from the digital version we learn that the tracks are arbitrary placed in this order: ‘Rise’, ‘Overhear’, ‘Blue Mountain’ and ‘Timepiece’. Each track takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to complete making Unfold a comprehensive listen. On all four approaches Abrahams’ piano (or organ on ‘Overhear’) is in the lead. In a continuous effort he keeps layering melody on melody while Swanton and Buck create space for him to do so.
Unfold’s tracks differ strongly from each other. ‘Blue Mountain’s’ bipolar tranquil-drum roll start turns into an intertwined work within minutes. At first the drums seem like brushes painting an idyllic sloping landscape. Yet, halfway resolute drumming an emotional piano motifs are a harbinger of a ruthless incoming thunderstorm which eventually darkens the horizon. ‘Blue Mountain’s’ end is very emotional and could well be set as the album’s closing track, but as said, faith could place it elsewhere for you. The detailed clockworked format of ‘Timepiece’ contrasts with turbulent ‘Blue Mountain’ but does bring another form of restlessness in play. Free-floating plucks of bass and bits, pieces of piano continually speed up and slow down the track while rattling alarms pierce through every now and then. Which a soft preciseness The Necks steer the track into multiple directions at the same time making listeners feel like they’re in the midst of a twenty minute lullaby that will only cause insomnia.
Not all on Unfold is just as tumultuous. ‘Rise’ is a meditative piece in which the trio disperses themselves in space to search for a sectio divina. Buck’s irregular percussion, Swanton’s back-and-forth bass swing and Abrahams’ brown study piano come together in an intriguing soundscape. The Necks are at their best when the trio seem to play separate from each other. One one is in the lead and the arrangement is turned inside out and outside in with a subtle easy. ‘Rise’ becomes somewhat fussed in the end but never loses its integrity. At long last ‘Overhear’ is the album’s most soulful track. Here Abraham starts out by playing light but lengthy rhythms on this organ which is slowly builds to an warm peak in about ten minutes. Buck and Swanton stick to their supporting role here, giving room to a solo that serves as a trippy apotheosis. Now, did a reach an natural end here? I truly don’t know so instead I started all over again at a point that is decided by faith.
As said Unfold is physically only available on two unnumbered LP’s, which is a good thing because it makes the album different each time you play it. The impressionistic moods of the tracks, balancing on the verges of jazz, avant-garde rock and classical music collide in hallucinating ways. It’s deep and complex and venturing too far down this rabbit hole is probably not for everyone. To me however Unfold is a perfect work to get lost in, and only stops when I feel that the end is there.
Label: Ideologic Organ, 2017
- Rise (15:34)
- Overhear (16:18)
- Blue Mountain (20:59)
- Timepiece (21:47)
Review by Wander Meulemans // 230217