It is tempting to say that if you want to hear jazz that is not another wearying variation of hard bop but is pushing the envelope, reaching out in new and interesting directions, look beyond American shores. Tempting, but, like all generalizations, is only partly, if nevertheless substantially, true. And yes, at around the 100-year point in jazz's evolution, conjuring new spirits out of old spells is a difficult mojo to work. But people are doing it-a case in point is The Necks, an Australian piano/keyboard trio that's developed an enormous cult following, generating album sales in the thousands with little or no publicity.
This is The Necks' sixth album and quite possibly its finest: a single 60-minute, spontaneous improvisation that unfolds from a germ of a melodic motif that is inverted, placed in retrograde, embellished, extended, extemporized and developed through ambient sound washes, shifting rhythms and psychedelic mood swings. The effect is analogous (although not similar) to the French composer Vincent d'Indy's Istar Variations where a Babylonian goddess of the same name passes through seven gates, divesting some garments at each. When she passes through the seventh the transformation is complete; she is naked. At the end of 60 minutes, The Necks (Chris Abrahams, Tony Buck and Lloyd Swanton) may have passed through more gates than Istar, but the effect at the final one is just as attention grabbing. Riveting stuff whose logic only properly coalesces when you log on for the whole trip.