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The Necks will ring in 30th anniversary at Philadelphia Art Alliance

necks
The Necks | photo by Holimage | courtesy of the artist

Lean and intimate yet affording a vast palette of possibilities, the piano trio has proved to be one of the most resilient and malleable units in modern music. From the elegant finesse of Bill Evans to the skewed-angle eccentricities of Thelonious Monk, down to modern innovators like Vijay Iyer’s rhythmic expansiveness and The Bad Plus’ droll provocations, the deceptively simple set-up of piano, bass and drums provides seemingly endless opportunities for exploration.

Over the last three decades, The Necks have taken full advantage of those opportunities. The Australian trio – pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck – don’t just go deep; they’re sonic spelunkers, venturing into darker, more mysterious corners and finding unexpected treasures typically hidden from the light. They craft massive structures from tiny moments, typically taking the form of single, hour-long pieces that are allowed to grow and evolve at a relatively glacial pace.

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Tomeka Reid carries jazz into the future with an Ars Nova Workshop concert

tomeka reid
Tomeka Reid | photo courtesy of the artist

Fresh off of a year spent celebrating its 50th anniversary, it would be easy to view the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) as a landmark of the past, a movement that set jazz on a new course and was absorbed into a redefined mainstream. But the Chicago-based organization continues to spawn new members with fresh perspectives on its “Ancient to the Future” mantra, which takes a far-ranging and open-minded view of the whole of jazz – and music – history as fodder for its sonic experiments.

Cellist Tomeka Reid is one standout among the latter generation, who has worked with founding members like Anthony Braxton as well as more contemporary standard-bearers like flutist Nicole Mitchell and drummer Mike Reed.

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A twisted take on smooth jazz and big bands with Mostly Other People Do the Killing

Photo by Michael Hoefner
Photo by Michael Hoefner

An irreverent attitude towards jazz orthodoxy has always been central to the sound of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. But on its most recent recordings, the puckishly eclectic quartet has trained its focus on more specific, neglected areas of the music’s history. Last year’s Slippery Rock played with the tropes and sounds of smooth jazz for a set of music that was far from smooth. Now, with Red Hot, the band looks much further back to the less reviled but equally sidelined inspiration of traditional jazz bands of the 1920s.

“Most contemporary, common practice jazz draws on a pretty small window of stuff,” says MOPDTK bassist and bandleader Moppa Elliott. “The vast majority of stuff out there is some variation on Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers circa 1960, where you’ve got written material at the beginning and the end and a series of solos in the middle. I’ve never really liked stuff like that. A lot of vocabulary from both smooth jazz and early jazz has been omitted from canonized modern jazz because it doesn’t conform to what everybody has settled on as being the way you play jazz.”

However MOPDTK approaches playing jazz, “conform” would hardly be a word that comes to mind. Formed in 2003, the band consists of Elliott, trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, and drummer Kevin Shea. Each member comes to the group with a stunning array of interests, from classic to avant-garde jazz and into punk and indie rock, free improvisation, and beyond. They combine to form something that’s both inventive and off-the-wall, looked on with suspicion in some circles due to their sense of humor but impossible to dismiss because of their virtuosic musicianship.

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