Interview: Chris Abrahams of ‘The Necks’, New Release and Australian Tour

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Few ensembles in the world of Australian jazz have made a mark upon the international circuit the way progressive jazz trio The Necks have. Forging a 25 year career as an innovative, mesmerising live act, the group return to our shores to tour the release of their 17th full length release, “Open”.

The Necks have, for many years, received plenty of positive critical recognition within Australia. Acoustic pianist Chris Abrahams notes while they’ve been lucky, it took a few years for local acclaim to build up, pointing out that while their crowds haven’t grown “huge” they’ve reached a reasonable critical mass which allows them to tour. He’s eagerly anticipating their upcoming Adelaide performance, recalling their show at WOMADelaide a few years back: “We played in the early afternoon while the sun was setting and it was a great experience. We don’t always play outdoors, which made it memorable.” He says it was one of the better outdoor gigs they have ever done.

Abrahams is enthusiastic about the latest tour, especially after the fantastic response from European audiences including sell out performances in Paris, Gdansk, Warsaw, Aalst and a special run of three performances in London, where they’ve become accustomed to great responses. He also has fond memories of their shows in Ljuvljana, Slovenia and Croatia with the big reactions from the “boisterous” crowds.

The Necks in a sense are a concept act, each show is wholly improvised and spontaneous. The band doesn’t even rely upon a rehearsal process in the build up to shows. Abrahams explains while they don’t discuss shows before they play, they’ve built up a way of communicating after so many years of playing together, “we all very much trust what each other are going to do.” However he points out that even if the arrangements are instantaneous “it always sounds like the Necks.” The band members have played together since the 70s in various outfits, but Abrahams says right from the start the Necks were always going to be improvisational and foregoing rehearsals are “fundamental to the logic of the band.” Even so, he says the first gig of the tour will always be different from the last, as their sound develops through the tour.

The Necks get together three or four times a year and play a concentrated run of gigs, then they don’t see each other for three months. Abrahams says they’re busy doing other things between gigs and there’s no sense of competition with other work: “we in fact encourage other collaborations as it brings together outside influences.” Speaking of collaborations, The Necks had the chance to pick a musician to pair up with for a special BBC show. Abrahams says the choice was easy. Iconic experimental saxophonist Evan Parker and the Necks were naturally suited to each other. “The Necks are very malleable in how we play” he states, qualifying that as with all their shows, the performance with Parker was influenced by sound of the room and PA and the context of the event. On this occasion the band “naturally levitated towards a different way of playing” and creating more space for Parker’s saxophone. “It was a beautiful way to spend an afternoon” he reminisces.

Of the current release Abrahams says the band wanted to make a “sparse record with Open and a more up record”, compared with their previous release Mindset, which comprised of two tracks of dense, concentrated material. He says they didn’t want Open to have overly grant crescendos and not be as dense as Mindset, which was developed with a vinyl recording in mind, compared to digital with Open. Abrahams says The Necks are able to bring together different ideas in the studio and maintain a positive and supportive environment, in which members are unafraid to “express ideas and try things out – which is very important.” The vibe between members is so positive that throughout their career he struggles to recall any argument or any negative vibe. He muses perhaps the spontaneous concept of the group, allows for a more accepting and less combative outlook. When they play live, they would never tell other members to play a certain way it would go against the ethos of the band. He says every performance is a truly “collective effort” free from any form of judgement and there is no central composer or group leader, while each member has the power of veto. In Abraham’s experience “groups based on one person’s dream where other people are subordinate” don’t seem to last as long as The Necks have.

Abraham says Adelaide audiences can expect play two diverse but immersive sets, each running for around 45 minutes. Almost coyly he keeps the explanation short “it will sound like The Necks, that’s really all I can predict”. He’s more expressive about the experience emphasising the band get as mesmerised at the performance as the audience going so far as to say that “you’ll notice time passing in a way you would not ordinarily experience”. While they steadfastly refuse to use samples, The Necks shows feature a unique set of sounds sounds, one Abraham characterises as a “sound world that is very psychedelic and hallucinogenic, sort of escapist – we take people outside of what pianos, bassists and drum kits produce…”

Interviewed by Gavin De Almeida: Arts Writer

The Necks play The Governor Hindmarsh in Adelaide on Sunday February 9th.

For ticketing information go to: www.thegov.com.au

Full details at www.thenecks.com 

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