That a jazz trio should be singled out for a special honour in the Art Music Awards, presented by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre, says a lot about both these awards and the group itself. Ever since they formed in Sydney in 1987 and issued their moody debut album, Sex, two years later, The Necks have forged a place all to themselves in avant-garde, exploratory jazz in this country. Comprising pianist Chris Abrahams, percussionist Tony Buck and bassist Lloyd Swanton, they have forged a unique language over that three-decade span – their hypnotic improvisations stretch and evolve over long periods of time and venture into psychological realms, eliciting new and intimate sounds from their instruments.
When they were presented with the Richard Gill Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music at the recent 2019 Art Music Awards, it was a reminder that these awards celebrate the country’s highest achievements not only in contemporary classical music but also in contemporary jazz, improvised music, experimental music and sound art. Often the lines are blurred, and The Necks are such a case in point. Their simplicity and sophistication of materials and execution have been likened to LaMonte Young and Philip Glass, and their freewheeling improvisations to The Dirty Three and Faust. The Sydney group is no strangers to recognition either: twice The Necks have won Most Performed Jazz Work in the APRA Awards – in 2005 for their 60-minute improvisation ‘Drive By’, and in 2006 for their twelfth album, Mosquito.
It is worth pointing out too, that the late Richard Gill, as a musical polymath, valued jazz equally as highly as classical music. “There is no way you can demonstrate in any serious way that classical music is better than jazz or jazz is better than classical music. They are music and provide us with incredible richness,” he once told The Sydney Morning Herald. Too often people see jazz and classical as fundamentally separate musical genres, but Gill was of a different view. In one of the last concerts he presented, ‘A Voyage of Musical Discovery: Program One – Motivic Development’ with the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra at Sydney’s City Recital Hall, he explored jazz and classical works in intimate connection with each other.
The Richard Gill Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music is the renamed Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music in the Art Music Awards, and it sits alongside 11 other award categories – see all the winners here. Last year, the award for distinguished services went to Robyn Holmes for her work in amassing archives of important Australian performers and composers at the National Library in her capacity there as Australia’s first Curator of Music.