Meticulously compiled from over a decade of solo piano recordings, Climb (Vegetable Records) is an album that fans of The Necks have been waiting for.
Chris Abrahams produced his first two solo piano music in the mid 80s, when in his early 20s. At the time he was also playing as a recruit with post-punks Laughing Clowns, pop music as a member of The Sparklers, and jazz in the Benders, alongside future Necks colleague Lloyd Swanton. More recently, outwith The Necks, his independent focus has been electro-acoustic music, as recently documented on ROOM40’s excellent Fluid to the Influence, though there have also been albums of pop music in duo with the Sparklers’ singer Melanie Oxley, and numerous other collaborations besides.
So Climb is Abrahams’ fifth album of solo piano music, but the first in over a decade since Streaming in 2003.
While its production binds it together (it sounds like it was all recorded on one piano), it’s more varied than his concentrated sets with The Necks usually allow, comprised of shorter pieces that don’t demand the same methodical immersion in modes and patterns as The Necks’ slow yield extended performances. The same remarkable free-flow of conception and execution is, however, in full effect.
Abrahams can be methodical, but not in any formal sense. He imbues the multiform intricacies of a piece such as “Beach of Black Stones” – at 3:42, the album’s shortest and most tantalisingly expressionist cut – with an improviser’s complex humanity. It’s primarily emotion and response, with no tidy pattern or resolution.
Contrast both this and the shimmering lyricism of “Roller” with the churning, piano-intestinal rumble of “Fern Scrapes”, which Abrahams plays at a remarkable turn of speed. It’s like super-computer player piano: one for fans of Nancarrow.
And contrast that, again, with the poise and delicacy of “The Sleepings and the Drifts”, which is almost pellucid, a lulling ravishment.
“The Sleepings and the Drifts” and “Overlap”, the album’s longest pieces (none last much longer than nine minutes), are most comparable to The Necks. The latter is played in the piano’s lower register in mesmeric tidal rhythm, Abrahams focused but split- rather than single-minded, creating parallel seams of development in productive tension that converge, merge and diverge in interlocking patterns.
A couple of the other pieces, “Roller” and “Dog Rose”, are very different, with a dreamlike lyricism shot through with steely intelligence – a sense of practiced vitality even more striking on the album’s last cut, “Shoreline’’, which is an intricate, elemental piece played with tempered vitality.
Chris Abrahams piano.
Buy Climb direct from … actually, I’ve no idea; can’t find a website. Maybe try this Bandcamp page (not yet active at time of writing).