REVIEW: The Necks with Evan Parker at Cafe Oto (2015 EFG LJF)

The Necks. Photo credit: Holimage

The Necks with Evan Parker.
(Cafe Oto EFG LJF. 16 November 2015. Review by Patrick Hadfield.)


This was something different from The Necks. Whilst it followed their usual format - two sets of wholly improvised music - the addition of Evan Parker changed the dynamics within the trio.

Percussionist Tony Buck started the first set with bells and a kind of windy-rattle, producing a low drone. Buck sits at a conventional drum kit, but uses it in ways that defy convention. When he plays with brushes, it is as likely to be a brush for sweeping the floor as the more usual drummers' choice of wire brushes. Tonight, Buck used both.

He also scraped bells and cymbals across the snare drum, beat his tomtoms with a small hand drum, and used a cow bell to hit his cymbals. And a lot else.

Whilst it might be free, the Necks' music is very rhythmic. Buck's playing keeps time whatever he is using as a batter. Pianist Chris Abrahams produces torrents of notes at speed, up and down the keyboard - from the highest to the lowest notes.

Bass player Lloyd Swanton bows long notes, plucks the strings of his acoustic with the fingers of either hand, and keeps the rhythmic impetus going.

The effect of the trio can be mesmerising, the music ebbing and flowing as the mood takes them. Over this Parker laid a barrage of notes, matching the speed of Abrahams' cascading arpeggios. And he kept it going, not stopping for twenty minutes, seemingly without taking a breath. Playing only soprano saxophone, the notes just flowed. And after a brief hiatus, he was back again. After the first set, Parker looked exhausted, drenched in sweat.

The first set was all-out. Sitting right by the piano, I felt enveloped by the sound, assaulted by the musical drive. The music was full of texture, each of the musicians contributing equally as they swapped the roles of leader and followers, sometimes going off in a limb, sometimes rousing the same form before someone else took it down a different track. It was like wave after wave of sound washing over the audience. The second set followed in the same fashion, and perhaps suffered in comparison. Less full on than the first set - and even with a long break, I'd have been amazed had they kept such a high level of energy - it was nevertheless very similar. It started more slowly, Buck doing his thing with the hardware-brush whilst Parker simply breathed through his saxophone, but slowly they built up momentum, Abrahams pummeling his piano and Swanton pulling hard on his strings. If it didn't seem as effective as the first set, it was only because the first set had contained so much.

 Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

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