If you were scanning the Necks? career for blemishes, the biggest streak – a great dirty stain running right across it – would be that no band should consistently be this good. The format is, by now, well-established: unscripted piano, bass and drums for an extended playing time; jazz, but not as Norah Jones knows it. Their last recorded release, Chemist*, broke expectations to good effect – it was a series of relatively short workouts. *Townsville, a recording from a gig near the titular city, is a return to the earlier template. It is, again, a brilliantly subtle study in tension and release.
Closer to works like Sex, Townsville sees the group more active than some mid-period stuff: it’s still minimalism, but in a busier mood. The Necks emphasise duration here; a tracing of lines and the joy of their deviation, the holding in mind of one pattern as you hear it tilted. Like some blissful Australian meeting of Morton Feldman, John Cage and Steve Reich, The Necks manage to be both spacious and insistent. As pure background music, the unfortunate fate of many jazz trios, The Necks would never do – it’s all too fraught and frisky. There’s a pace to their motion. They do not stand still.
On Townsville, the set begins with the see-sawing melody of Lloyd Swanton’s beautiful double bass. The others enter unobtrusively: Tony Buck taps his symbols into the rhythm, prising open his own space; Chris Abrahams, with signature lyricism, wanders up and down the piano, eight fingers in search of a melody. It starts here and goes through every permutation imaginable, twisting inside itself like an Escher illusion, taking delight in thoroughly exploring this creation of theirs. Changes happen, each one seeming like a mammoth event. Booming bass chords. Lunging piano changes. Kick drum strikes.
The Necks successfully get at what almost an entire global scene of post-rockers with delay pedals failed to express: a slow-motion glory, a weaving of bitter and sweet that is never glib, a singular vocabulary of musical invention – unfamiliar and yet still deeply affecting. The Necks are manic and poised, patient and restless. There’s something vital in their every outing.