The Secret Life of Organs

Jazzlines Artistic Advisor, Tony Dudley-Evans, anticipates The Necks upcoming visit to Town Hall with a look back at their previous Birmingham appearances and unique, genre-defying sound.

The Australian trio The Necks will be appearing in the Secret Life of Organs concert at Birmingham Town Hall on April 5th, but Chris Abrahams will be playing the Town Hall organ rather than his usual instrument, the piano. This is an intriguing prospect as The Necks are known for their carefully crafted, but totally improvised concerts in which the music begins gently and builds up gradually through various mood changes. It will be fascinating to hear how the power of the Town Hall organ changes the dynamic of the group and the improvisations they develop. They should be well prepared mentally because Chris Abrahams visited the Town Hall on a recent visit to UK and had a play on the organ. I understand that he is excited by the prospect of playing in the Town Hall acoustic that is perfect for a big organ sound.

This will be the fourth visit of The Necks to Birmingham. They first played the CBSO Centre in May 2009, then the A. E Harris Building, home of Stan’s Café, in November 2011, and finally in the round at the Town Hall in November 2013 as part of the R!SK Festival. The way that they work is enthralling; they never discuss what they are going to play in advance, but just decide which member of the trio will start the improvisation. As Peter Bacon put it in his review of their first CBSO Centre concert in 2009:

Before each of two sets they are silently motionless for a minute as they clear their minds. Then Swanton or Abrahams summons up the first impulse and turns it into sound – a simple bass figure, a trilling piano pattern – and they are off.

The Necks’ music defies classification; it is not jazz, not contemporary classical, not ambient, but certainly constantly engaging in the way it develops. There are not big climaxes, rather gradual change that always has a strong rhythmic pulse.

I was very interested in a description of their music in Richard Williams’ book The Blue Moment about the influence of Miles Davis’ seminal Kind of Blue album made in 1959 (Williams, 2009). Williams argues that the Necks’ music is a key example in the 21st century of the influence and legacy of Miles Davis and Kind of Blue. He suggests that Chris Abrahams’ playing shows the influence of Bill Evans on that album, Lloyd Swanson’s bass figures reminds him of those of Paul Chambers, and Tony Buck’s drumming is derived from the way Jimmy Cobb’s pushes Miles behind his solos. But, above all, it is the freedom that Kind of Blue opened up that inhabits the Necks’ musical world.

A Necks concert is always eagerly awaited, this one is particularly anticipated.

Richard Williams (2009) The Blue Moment London: Faber and Faber

You can see The Necks and James McVinnie: The Secret Life of Organs at Town Hall on Tuesday 5 April, 7:30pm.