Although he has a string of solo releases behind him, Chris Abrahams is probably best known as the pianist of that Australian powerhouse of improvisational music, The Necks. With his parent group recently celebrating its 30th anniversary with a string of shows in their favourite venues, it seems perfect timing for Abrahams to unveil his latest album. Climb is his first solo piano work for a decade, although there has been a series of electro-acoustic albums on Room40 in between (the last of these, Fluid To The Influence, came out earlier in 2016). In contrast to his work with The Necks, who tend to capture one hour of one day’s improvisation, this album has been assembled from hours of recordings made over several years, which perhaps explains the contrasting moods of the seven pieces here.
Opening with the gentle and comparatively tranquil “Roller”, with its undulating melody and room ambience – the odd pedal squeak and chair creak adds to the atmosphere – Climb feels sometimes free, sometimes structured; part-composed, part-improvised, as one might expect from a master improviser who conjures something new every time he walks on stage. The seven pieces selected from the hours of tapes are put together to create a narrative flow and increase the emotional impact. The tracks individually create powerful sound images as well – “The Sleepings And The Drifts” starts off sparingly, the bass notes echoing out like stones thrown in a pool while the right hand scurries like small waves rippling across the surface, rolling back on themselves.
“Overlap” is all clustered notes and rumbling heaviness, emphasising the impression of Climb as an emotional rollercoaster, ramping up the intensity then easing off on “Beach of Black Stones” before going again in the final trio of pieces. Without having to resort to any trickery or additional effects, Chris Abrahams demonstrates the versatility and range of one man sitting at a piano. Some may want to pluck out a track here or there for a meditative playlist but it is far better to listen to the album as a complete work of seven cumulative movements. When taken as a whole, it is a genuinely affecting sequence, a testament to the power of imagination and 88 keys. (Jeremy Bye)