Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck. Picture: Supplied

The Necks are probably the most flexible, portable band going around the international jazz traps these days.

Late last year the trio spent three weeks gigging around Europe to sell-out audiences, bringing to each venue just their creativity and enthusiasm for the free-form jazz improvisations that are their trademark.

As bassist Lloyd Swanton admits, when they travel overseas these days he borrows an acoustic bass, piano player Chris Abrahams uses the venue instrument and drummer Tony Buck will borrow his kit.

Nor does the trio have to worry about playlists or dealing with requests for numbers from the audience. As is now widely known after a 25-year career, the Necks are the supreme improvisers, creating music that begins with a single note or phrase from one of the players.

The note or phrase forms the first idea of the Necks' performance, which can often extend over an hour of shaping ideas to fit the musical concepts on display on a particular night. So each night is different from the one before.

As their own publicity material puts it, the Necks "slowly conjure sound mountains out of thin air". They have been fairly regular visitors to Perth over the past 15 years, in the past playing at the old Hyde Park Hotel for the Perth Jazz Society or at the Charles Hotel. Their next visit will be their first time at the Ellington Jazz Club in Northbridge, now home to much of the city's contemporary jazz.

The Necks are renowned as live jazz players but that doesn't prevent them from recording their long solo improvisations on CD.

"In fact we've recorded 17 albums," Swanton says. Surprisingly, perhaps, given the current state of the recording industry, the trio's second-latest album - Mindset - was produced as an old-fashioned vinyl record.

"The vinyl album sold very well, and not just to old fogeys who remember the good old days of recordings.

"There are young collectors of vinyl, too. I'm not saying vinyl is back and here to stay but people do like the idea of going out and buying a specific vinyl 'thing' - it's a specific object that you want."

Swanton admits that one of the limitations of vinyl is that it is not possible to fit all their improvised music on the album, so their improvisations have to be shorter than is possible on a conventional CD.

The Necks 25-year career began in Sydney but these days the trio are scattered across the globe. Swanton lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Abrahams divides his time between Sydney and Berlin, while Buck is permanently based in Berlin.

It means they must carefully plan their gigs, homing in more frequently on the European market which, Swanton admits, is far more lucrative than the Australian market.

But true to their instincts as improvisers, The Necks do not try to plan too far ahead.

"Our agent asked us recently what our five-year plan was," says Swanton. "We had to say we didn't really have a one-hour plan for what we would do in our concerts, let alone a one-week plan or a one- year or five-year plan."

Nevertheless, the trio does have a loose idea that after capturing the European market they will try their luck in the US.

"We've found that getting work visas for the US is extremely difficult, which has put us off trying," Swanton says.

"But we think we'll have another go at getting there in 2015."

The West Australian

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