So some 33 years on, Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (percussion) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) have returned with their twenty first album. Whilst live they close their eyes and embrace the moment, on record there’s less immediate composing at play and even overdubs.
Not surprisingly there are three pieces here. As an ensemble they’re all about the journey, long form pieces that gradually evolve over time. They’re also about trusting in the whole, and that together they will find a way. Over the last thirty odd years they’ve evolved, but you’d hesitate to describe how. Buck for example became more interested in density of percussion, non western meters and timbres. You can hear an example of this on the opener ‘Bloom’, where an unrelenting explosive cacophony of frenetic percussion spreads itself across the piece, a veritable wall of percussion over which Abrahams dreamy piano runs rise and fall gently, like he’s playing on to another piece entirely. This too is trust, finding, or perhaps even creating the groove within Buck’s chaos. If Swanton and Abrahams attempted to match his tempo it could possibly result in a frenetic acoustic take on drill and bass, yet its this disparity between approaches that makes it so mesmirising. Synth and electric guitar also appear midway within the textures, again highlighting the multi track nature of their recorded work.
‘Lovelock’ is a tribute to Celibate Rifles front man and (my favourite) soccer commentator Damien Lovelock. It’s sparse, filled with space and silence, the propulsion coming from the build up as a contemplative piano meanders over these gentle swells of highly evocative sound. With each breath you can hear more, synth, and even guitar (I think) within the music, before it all falls away and we’re left with only one or two droney sounds before it builds again. There’s so much space here, particularly in comparison with its predecessor, which results in a peculiar kind of hypnotism. It’s so gentle that the mind locks on to the structure and then starts to lose itself. Despite a gradual stretching out, it’s pretty hard to come back to earth.
The final piece, ‘Further’ is probably the piece where the trio are most locked together in a traditional manner, though to be fair Buck is simultaneously playing kick and snare relatively normally but is at the same time pretty hyperactive on the hi hats and cymbals. A gorgeous organ appears reminiscent of 2003’s Drive By, yet it sticks its head out only to retreat again, making you wonder if you ever even heard it. Is that desert highway electric guitar? Or some kind of trick Abrahams is doing with his keys? And does it even matter? This piece is The Necks doing The Necks, where the previous two tracks felt like something new. Normally this would be a bad thing, but the music is so incredible and welcome that it’s possible that this is actually the album highlight.
Like all The Necks albums, Three is an album you fall into. It’s music for duration, though also music for texture, where repeated listens will reveal previously hidden elements. It feels live, and to some extent I’m sure it partially was, but when you’re dealing with musicians this adept everything they do is alive; alive with possibility, with beauty, alive with a kind of assurance that most music could only dream of.