The Necks have been improvising beautiful music for many years now. You might call them a jazz trio — after all, they do follow the standard lineup of instruments you’ll see in many jazz trios: piano, bass and drums. But these Australian musicians create their own distinctive sort of music, as they demonstrated Sunday, March 27, in a breathtaking performance at Constellation. They played two sets — each consisting of a single, uninterrupted piece of music that steadily built up from the smallest and quietest of musical gestures. At the very beginning, it was just Tony Buck flicking a brush on one of his drums. And then Lloyd Swanton joined in, fingering the strings of his upright bass with a rumbling musical gesture that fit in perfectly with the brushing. Finally, Chris Abrahams tenderly touched the keys of the piano, creating a circling pattern of notes. These minimalist motifs gradually transformed, growing in volume and intensity, but a steadiness remained at the heart of the music — each musician closely following the lead of the others but then pulling the trio in a slightly new direction. It was a wonder to see and hear.
Chicago’s Hungry Brain hosts improvisational music every Sunday — jazz and other hard-to-define sounds — with help from the Umbrella Music organization. It’s a quirky little venue that feels like a Beatnik’s living room grafted onto an old-fashioned bar. This past Sunday (Sept. 18) the Hungry Brain hosted a rare local appearance by the esteemed Australian band the Necks. This group sticks with a formula — album-length pieces of music that build from a quiet motif to layers of shimmering sound and then subside back to silence — but it’s a formula with infinite possibilities, after all. The two sets they played Sunday proved that. The Necks did it all with piano, upright bass and drums, a fairly standard jazz combo arrangement that yielded far from standard results. At times, the oscillating patterns of the three instruments sounded electronic or orchestral, despite the apparent lack of special effects.