The music of vocalist Maria Neckam defies easy categorization. Neckam, a native Austrian living in New York since 2005, has never subscribed to the idea of belonging to one specific subset of the music world. She has brought her unique vocal talents into rock realms, classical settings, modern jazz and various other arenas and her voice has a hypnotic purity that has the potential to stop people dead in their tracks. Her music, filled with catchy vocal hooks and lyrics that bare her soul, is just as likely to be heard on jazz radio as it is to be featured on college radio or played in quiet neighborhood coffee shop on a rainy day.
While no single influence towers over the music, throwing Björk, Regina Spektor, Kate McGarry
and Sally Ellysonlead vocalist of the incomparable Heminto a blender might yield something like this. Neckam establishes herself in the singer/songwriter category with spectacular songs like "Deeper" and "When You're In Love" in the first half of the album, but the scope of the music leans in a more ambitious jazz-defined direction in the latter half.
"Indestructible Fort" is the earliest track on the album to feature alto saxophonist Lars Dietrich and it introduces Neckam's wordless vocals, which become more prominent in later tracks. "Happy Song" gives Neckam an opportunity to meld her vocal sighs with Dietrich. Neckam shows emotional vulnerability and a way with words on the aforementioned "When You're In Love," and drummer Colin Stranahan takes things up a notch when he drives the song home. tenor saxophonist Samir Zarif
is added to the mix of Neckam and Dietrich at the outset of "Fear." Neckam moves in angular leaps and intriguing intervallic maneuvers throughout this song. Peter Eldridge
, one of Neckam's mentors from her time at the Manhattan School of Music, joins her on "I Remember." The wonders of multi-tracking allow Neckam and Eldridge to create a rich, undulating choir out of their voices and the song briefly hints at the magic of Mossthe vocal jazz "super group" to which Eldridge belongs. Bassist Thomas Morgan provides solid support throughout the album and gets a chance to step out with some soloing on "Blown Away." Neckam's inner-Björk comes outas she forcefully and repeatedly intones the two words in the titleon "Missing You." A drum 'n' bass groove underscores this track and pianist Aaron Goldberg
provides some exuberant soloing. Zarif and Dietrich provide some distant sounding saxophone work as "Learn My Tongue" begins and Goldberg's piano work here is in a more relaxed vein. The only unnecessary song seems to be the "full" version of the title trackas opposed to the shorter version which opens the album. While the short version is perfect for airplay, it also has a heightened emotional quality that's lacking in the seven-and-a-half, album closing take. This aside, Neckam has crafted one of the most appealing, genre-crossing vocal albums to hit the street in 2010.
Personnel: Maria Neckam: voice; Aaron Goldberg: piano; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Colin Stranahan: drums; Lars Dietrich: alto saxophone (2, 3, 5, 8, 9); Samir Zarif: tenor saxophone (5, 8, 9); Peter Eldridge: voice (6).