Australian jazz: what is it and is it held in any regard by Australian or overseas listeners? I don’t think there is a thing called Australian jazz, just jazz played by Australian musicians. If there were then The Necks would be it. A trio with a higher standing overseas than in Australia, which is always a good sign of a quality product.
Their new album Three was released this month. It is another outing into the domain of the piano (keyboard), bass and drum trio, not the old piano trio. That new connotation of piano/bass/drums is more Burial than Bill Evans, but no less jazz because of it.
The first track, Bloom, is a 20-minute outing that’s a frantic, frenetic paced affair of what sounds like a hurdy-gurdy being played with the piano, bass and drums – reminiscent of their earlier album, Aquatic. Areas of comparison are not the tempo, this is much more frenetic but that hurdy-gurdy just doesn’t let you forget the earlier outing. The three musicians were really working at a tempo that is more dance club than jazz club, yet intoxicating never the less. An unrelenting, fast-paced track that doesn’t let you forget that jazz has moved beyond the cocktail bar piano trio of years gone by, this is no “Play it again, Sam” moment in music.
The second track Lovelock, is just as Necks sounding as the first, yet totally different. A track with shimmering percussion, lots of space, changes in dynamics and the three instruments being played in such arresting ways. The arco on the bass, and the percussion more pastel in nature, with more colour, not just keeping time but shimmering through time. This is classic of The Necks. The pace is more a walk through a graveyard with oh, such wonderful shimmering sounds but you never quite forget the fact that there is an underlying menace here. Not all beautiful music is just pretty. Three instruments playing together but with real separation as well, it is extremely hard to think of this as a piano with backing as each instrument is its own master.
The third and final track of Three, Further is also classic of The Necks from the time of their album Sex. Another 20-minute outing of gorgeous piano, bass and drums, this is probably closer to what a lot of jazz listeners would call the classic piano trio. This is the sort of thing I love listening to late at night. If there was ever late-night music to be played with someone who you want to be special, this is it. Hypnotic and yes, a sexy outing of sensual promise. What a closing! This is such a sensual piece of music. Once played, you will find your attention being drawn to each instrument in turn; piano, the double bass and the drums. The tempo doesn’t change at all but what happens within the track is constantly on the move, and gorgeously so.
Three is a wonderful album. If it has a flaw, it is the fact that the three tracks are markedly different. Almost as if they are examples of three different time periods of The Necks. Having said that, it is worth having and is more than just an overview of a great jazz trio. You will find that one or two of the tracks will become favourites but all three are worth having and will probably become favourites depending on your mood. A great album, and an album that demands to be heard, and listened to in so many ways.