A case of Vertigo

“Masters of their own musical language of long-form improvisation, each night they step onto the stage with no pre-conceived ideas of what they will play – they and the audience will go on a sonic journey that is created in the moment and in that room.”

This year is The Necks 30th anniversary. They have ploughed a unique musical furrow over that period, releasing fourteen studio albums, one soundtrack, and four live albums. A recent box set from ReR Megacorp collects eight of those releases into a useful history, and for those with enough money, and time, it is a perfect summary of work to date.

Wikipedia describes the trio as “experimental jazz” which is accurate to a point.  Some times they can be as far removed from jazz as chalk is from cheese. I guess the confusion might be that the composition of the band, Chris Abrahams on piano , Tony Buck on drums, and percussion , and Lloyd Swanton on double bass, is the traditional jazz trio line-up. But this is not the Bill Evans Trio, and to be clear, it’s not E.S.T. either. They are far more than jazz, in the same way an improvising collective like AMM or Supersilent are distant from the traditional confines of the genre, but are labelled as “jazz”. Bands like this tend to be shoved into that corner of your local record emporium where the “difficult” music is put. Jazz roots are there, but the trio, over that thirty year time period, have invented a new kind of music. That the classical music writer from The Daily Telegraph reviewed their sold out three day residency at Café Oto in Dalston perhaps says more about the genre defying nature of this band than I can.

A November gig from the trio in Manchester is therefore not to be missed.

This is my second time of seeing them. They tend to make it a habit of playing the Band on the Wall when they are in Manchester. The last time was three or four years back, and the memories are strong of an exceptional performance. So it is with some anticipation I venture down to Manchester’s premier live music venue for their latest gig in the city.

The insistent rain and cold air attempt to dampen my spirits, and the dark, puddle strewn, corners of Oldham Street are not the most inviting of prospects on an autumnal Tuesday night. Despite the inclement weather the place is full. The Necks always pull a large crowd, there’s a couple of seats on the right side of the room with a reasonable view, albeit obstructed by one of the BOTW’s ornate pillars. The Necks performance routine is well established. They will play two sets, both generally between 40 and 50 minutes in length. Very much in the same way that their album releases are generally one uninterrupted track of improvised music the live sets are complete pieces. This requires a lot of concentration and focused listening and my only gripe of the evening is the latecomers who spill into the room after the gig has started which allows the sound of the bar to filter into the room and disturb the delicate opening melodies that Chris Abrahams is developing. There’s also a hipster type, with several layers of clothing, and a back-pack, who decides to float around the room in an annoying fashion. But to counter that aberrant behaviour you close your eyes and lose yourself in the music. If I were the Band on the Wall I’d curfew the room at the set start time to stop the distractions when a band of this type is playing.

So, as I say, as it begins,  Abrahams, picks out a delicate melody, and I begin to wonder if there has been as shift to a more traditional musical form than hitherto experienced. These thoughts are misplaced of course, and soon dissipate  as Swanton uses his bow to create sonorous notes. Buck is not engaged for the first five minutes but slowly comes into the fray with light brush work. What follows is fifty minutes of repetition, with hypnotic surges of organically developing sound. At any one time I am recalling something akin to mid-70s Tangerine Dream, a particularly complex part of a Van Der Graaf Generator opus, a free jazz trio, or industrial music from the early 80s. You have to stop yourself and remember that this wonderful collection of sound is being created by a traditional acoustic piano, double bass and drum kit, albeit that the drummer has any number of little percussion tools at his disposal.  The structure of a Necks set is both familiar and different at the same time, a quiet reflective start, a build up to a complex, dense, and often cacophonous, middle, and then the fall away to a quieter coda.

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You have to remind yourself it is all improvised.

The remarkable thing is the complete lack of ego between the three musicians. They are separate but together. Each individual addresses their own contribution from their part of the stage, but the years of working together have clearly forged a collective endeavour which is equal and complete in its delivery.

The second set is perhaps a little more adventurous than the first. Swanton starts things off with an off kilter, almost Beefheartian riff, indeed Mark Boston had been stood just to the right of where he is several years ago when I saw The Magic Band at the same venue. Possibly some sort of ghostly Van Vliet dust is floating in the air?  Buck is creating alien pings with some brass cymbals which recall the opening of Echoes by Pink Floyd. He soon moves into a different area, and his contribution to this set is more overt. The lead role in the sound swaps between the three musicians. Abrahams uses the piano as a percussion instrument, as Buck creates melody with his battery of percussion, and Swanton floats between them creating sounds that I did not think were possible from a double bass. Time becomes an irrelevance as you lose yourself in this music. The rhythm is more hypnotic in the second set,  almost trance like, the music evokes memories, there’s a waking dream quality to the whole experience. At one point the music builds into a maelstrom of sound that is indescribable.

The Necks latest release is called Vertigo which after this nights experience appears to be an apposite title. They are completely unique, they are always different, but the process and the invention is familiar, so there is a backbone to the music which allows focus on and absorb what they do. You are caught in stream of musical ideas which takes you to a point of transcendence and then gently brings you back down to earth.

http://www.thenecks.com

http://www.bandonthewall.org

A previous gig demonstrates ably the band in full flow

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Fascinating Things : Issue 50

Aahh, 50 issues of things that fascinate, so how to mark this auspicious occasion? How about some new stuff  you probably don’t know about but you really ought to be aware of?

Number : One

Who? : Two Car Family

From?: Leeds

Notable Facts? : Includes Andy from Flies On You (although he has just announced he is stepping back from the band) and Mave from Chumbawamba

Sounds Like?: Epic grandeur indie with Nash & Young vocal harmonies

Number : Two

Who? : Saint Lawrence Verge

From? Modena

Notable Facts? : First international release by German Shepherd Records “Ashram” due soon…..

Sounds Like? Post-punk prog with a Morricone twist, lots of changes and dynamics

Number : Three

Who? : Kit B

From? : Manchester/Salford

Notable Facts?:  There are two DJs in the band. New EP out next week.

Sounds Like? : It comes from Manchester

Number : Four

Who? Mammifer

From? Seattle

Notable Facts? New album out on April 1st.

Sounds Like?: Minimal meanderings through a dreamscape. Tangerine Dream meets Sigur Ros at a shoegaze party.

Number : Five

Who? John Kaada and Mike Patton

From? : Stavanger and Eureka

Notable Facts? New album out on Ipecac on April 1st

Sounds Like?  Cinematic Horror Movie Soundtrack

Some times dreamy, always engaging….

Andy Sheppard

Surrounded By Sea

ECM

June 2nd 2015

Andy Sheppard: tenor and soprano saxophones
Eivind Aarset: guitar
Michel Benita: double bass
Sebastian Rochford: drums

Extending the range of his widely-praised Trio Libero project with Michel Benita and Seb Rochford, Andy Sheppard adds Eivind Aarset (who made significant contributions to 2008’s Movements In Colour) to the band. With Aarset’s ambient drones and electronic textures as a backdrop, Sheppard and co seem to have even more space to explore. The music  includes new compositions, open improvisations, an Elvis Costello tune, and the Gaelic traditional ballad “Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir” which appears in three variations, a thematic thread through the album. This is Sheppard’s third album for ECM.

I’ve long been a fan of both Sheppard and Aarset, particularly the work the latter did with Nils Petter Molvaer, and it is good to hear the two of them working together in this setting. I totally disagree with Ivan Hewitt’s comments in the Telegraph about the guitarists contribution to this release, rather than dominate Eivind adds beautiful colours and tones to the trio and delivers some of his most restrained work to date. Ian Patterson’s All About Jazz review is far more complimentary and more accurately reflects the graceful and measured feel of the album. Benita and Rochford work well together giving Sheppard the space to explore and extemporise.

It’s an ECM album so it is going to have that Nordic “Eicher” touch, Sheppard has embraced that fully and delivers one of his most beautiful sets to date. The music is serene, offering an often pastoral atmosphere, sometimes dreamy, but always engaging. Comparisons with Jan Garbarek are inevitable in this context and there is some read over between the two horn men although Sheppard employs a warmer and sometimes more breathy tone, and the music is more urgent and dynamic than Garbarek’s approach.

Sheppard brings his quartet to Band on the Wall, Manchester on 24th November (from 7:30pm) for what promises to be one of the stand-out jazz gigs of the year in the city. Tickets are available here

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Fascinating Things : Issue 34

Since I last wrote a couple of nice things have happened. Firstly I am now working with the excellent music venue Band on the Wall in Manchester to compile a monthly “new jazz” podcast which will reflect some of the jazz artists that will be playing at the august establishment as well as featuring some of the best new jazz releases. I am hoping to feature up and coming jazz musicians especially from the Greater Manchester area in those podcasts as well. I have an abiding love for the place as I have seen some of my favourite artists there over the years so it is a real treat for me to be doing this for them. Secondly I am now a featured blogger on the excellent Hype Machine website which highlights some of the best new music.

Talking of the Band on the Wall I was pleased to note that the legendary Curved Air will be playing there on Thursday next. Sadly I cannot attend due to ongoing post ankle fracture problems but my good buddy Stephen Doyle is attending on my behalf and a review of the gig will appear on the blog, courtesy of SD, in due course. It’s a long while since I saw Sonja and Co (supporting Mott The Hoople in Northampton back in the dark ages) so I am keen to hear what Steve and his wife Yvonne make of the performance. More information and ticket options can be found here.

Regina,Saskatchewan, based band Library Voices have released their new album  ‘Lovish’. Their self-produced third collective effort, ‘Lovish’ was recorded in an old funeral home. The album was mixed by Dave Plowman and Alex Bonenfant (METZ, Crystal Castles, July Talk). The band have upped the fuzz and fidelity on this release, but have not lost any of their charming melodic pop elements. The 11 song album opens with the line “All of your heroes, they’re all assholes/but that don’t mean you should piss on your dreams” and then embarks on an anthemic 40-minute alternative rock journey. The cavernous reverb of an old Space Echo and a busted up tape machine provides the sonic backbone to this engaging guitar-driven album. There’s almost a mid-period Go-Betweens feel in places which of course ticks all the right boxes for me. One of the better albums of the year, especially when the band get the guitars up to full pelt and the punk psychedelia kicks in.

Father Murphy, the Italian duo comprised of Rev. Murphy and Chiara Lee, who have been inhabiting the underground since the early Noughties with a series of dark, disturbing recordings, have teamed up with producer Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo (Larsen) for a 10” EP, which is appropriately entitled “Lamentations” and is to be released by the avant-garde label Backwards on 20th November 2015.

Picture by Sara Xiaygu
Picture by Sara Xiaygu

Preparations continue for the release of SUNN O)))’s upcoming LP, “Kannon”, to be released this December via Southern Lord, and this week the album’s cover art and pre-order options have been released.

Sunn o)))

As part of the label’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration, Relapse Records has released a 38-song label sampler available for free download via Bandcamp and Amazon MP3. The label sampler features songs from all of Relapse’s 2015 new releases including TORCHE, WINDHAND, ZOMBI, MYRKUR, ROYAL THUNDER and many more. It also includes tracks from the remixed and remastered reissues released in 2015, including music by PIG DESTROYER, SACRILEGE, EXHUMED, RAZOR, and more! Additionally, the sampler contains tracks from 2015’s new signees MAGRUDERGRIND, ILSA, SEVEN SISTERS OF SLEEP, WRONG, GRAVES AT SEA, and LYCUS. The 2015 sampler is also available for free streaming via all majorportals.

Additionally, Relapse Records released a massive 194-song sampler spanning the label’s entire 25-year history earlier this year.

The Scissors are self proclaimed as “Swirling Hammond organ fuelled psychpop with horrorshow freakbeat guitars and new wave post punk synergy”. They are from Cambridge and is the case with that places music scene there are all sorts of links. Band member Stewart Harris not only designed the sleeve for the recent Bouquet of Dead Crows album but also plays bass in excellent band The Seven Twenty. The Scissors have recently remastered their debut album as well as working on some new recordings which have been sent my way and will appear on a future podcast. Highly recommended!