Topology + The Necks play the Powerhouse

Greg Hooper

The Visy Theatre at the Powerhouse in Brisbane is the best venue I’ve been to for small gig concert music. It’s small, 200 people max, it’s not cramped, the aircon works. You can park the car easily, meet some friends, have a drink, look at the river, catch some sounds, interval, have a drink, chat with friends, look at the river, go back in, listen up, home in 20 minutes. I’ve been twice this year. Early Feb it was The Necks, a jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) very much out of the Sydney tradition and, later, Topology played the first of their 4 concerts at the Powerhouse this year.

The Necks are tasteful, skilful, no surprises, recommended by the friend I went with. They come on stage fairly serious with a bit of contemplative silence. Not the full reverent ju-ju, but we get the gist. This is serious music, one piece an hour long. Take care; are you good enough to listen? The set starts pretty slow. The bass player plays a 3-note figure for a while, then a while longer. The pianist also plays a simple figure that has somehow escaped my mind. A bit like a bar from an old Keith Jarrett piece (circa Köln Concert). And this guy can really play that bar. The time goes by, the seasons change, Iceland grows larger. Suddenly the bass player plays another note. He doesn’t do that again for a while. The drummer meanwhile is playing some tasteful repetitions of his own.

You might have picked up that I thought The Necks a little on the dull side. Sort of. In some ways the concert was good. The playing was excellent. The sound was clear. And the last few minutes where they really rocked was some of the best jazz I’ve heard. Loud. Aggressive. Chunky piano slabs, hard rubber bass, cymbals of death. Improv is great for exuberance and surprise. For subtle and considered, I’d just as soon the composer considered the subtlety for longer than one hour on the trot improvisation.

A week later, Topology play the well and truly considered. They’re a quintet out of the classical tradition. Violin, viola, double bass, sax, keyboard, and some multi-instrumental bits and pieces. Topology present a down home face to the audience. There’s some gentle ribbing between them; the frontman is personable without the toothpaste. The set is well selected with consistent themes and enough variety. An oldie by Messiaen, a Glass piece, Gavin Bryars, Lois Vierk, premiered works by Greenbaum and Gibson, and Vivs Bum Dance by John Rodgers. Topology has played this before. Reminds me a bit of the band Oregon in parts, but there are lots of other reasonably overt reminders. Not self-conscious cornball though, just the world we listen in. Rodgers is in the audience and takes a bow when his piece is finished. I bet that doesn’t happen too often for Australian composers, multiple performances and a bit of good cheer.

The performance of the 6th movement of Messian’s Quatour pour la fin du temps is a gem, solid playing and a great arrangement. The Greenbaum and Gibson were also good. I hope they don’t disappear after a single performance. Bryars’ Last Days is another good piece, though the playing was a little loose at times. The encore piece, Bernard Hoey’s reworking of a rock anthem by Queen, was in the Kronos meets Jimi style—a bit of throwaway fun. Leave ‘em smiling. (Maybe it was more than that. It’s a worry reviewing something on first listening, and I would be more than happy to hear most of this concert again.)

Not surprisingly, some pieces worked for me more than others. I don’t much like Glass’s A brief history of time—the tape of Stephen Hawking speaking is a bit forced (same old same old with Reich’s Different Trains). The live guitar tone in Vierk’s piece for 5 electric guitars was via a jack in the back of the keyboard, and not a dedicated guitar amp. A bit thin. The other 4 guitars came via a pre-record. Tough to do 5 guitars with only a single guitarist. (Must buy Seth Josel’s version—and there’s an advantage of hearing new pieces. I wasn’t totally happy about the Vierk performance so I went looking for another and found the guitarist Seth Josel. New CDs=new composers, and off go the search strings again.)

There are 3 more concerts by Topology at the Powerhouse this year. I’ll be there.

The Necks & Topology, Brisbane Powerhouse, February 10 and 17.

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 38

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2001