Maria Neckam: Deeper (2010)
It is precisely Neckam's knowledge that genres are manufactured that allows her to blur cultural borders so much that they cease to exist in her music. A fine example is "Fear." It is beautifully harmonic and melodious, and it's so rhythmically complex that it swerves closer to the characteristic 16-beat Hindustani rhythm pattern, teen taal, than to any recognizable Western music framework. However, framework is not something that Neckam deliberately inhabits as a stylistic mode. Her strength is inner rhythms and rhymes, with subtle shades of mood and emotion. This she projects exquisitely on "I Remember," a chart she wrote for voices, many of which she sings herself, although some are shared with singer Peter Eldridge.
Singing in voices may be nothing new; Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross, Singers Unlimited and groups like Take Six have excelled in this inventive vocal expedition. But what sets Neckam apart are her songs. They feature lyrics that dwell on the concrete and are, in charts like "Blown Away" and "Learn My Tongue," almost stream-of-consciousness. There is something of the James Joyce of Pomes Pennyeach (1927) in much of this album. Neckam adorns the poetry by traipsing across the vocal landscape, using her breath together with uncharacteristic intonation and phrasing, to create mighty and unforgettable whorls of songs.
It helps that Neckam is surrounded by a fine group of musicians. Pianist Aaron Goldbergand bassist Thomas Morgan are superb with solos that breathe almost vocally as they match the high-flying emotion of "Blown Away." Neckam is not far behind as she hits highs rarely heard since Urszula Dudziak with Michal Urbaniak or Flora Purim with Chick Corea. The vivid colors of "Missing You" are wonderful in quite another sense, as they conjure images of a microcosmic world inhabited by creatures that feel like humans do. "Learn My Tongue," an odd little title for a song to start with, soon makes eminent sense as Neckam launches into a bluesy groove that suggests a complete breakdown in a relationship that can only be resolved by a biological miracle. The harmonics that proceed as a result are a joy to listen to, proving that Neckam is a vocalist unafraid to go where mostly Sufi poets and musicians inhabit their devotional art.
Track Listing: Deeper; Indestructible Fort; Happy Song; When You're In Love; Fear; I Remember; Blown Away; Missing You; Learn My Tongue; Deeper (Full Version).
Personnel: Maria Neckam: voice; Aaron Goldberg: piano; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Colin Stranahan: drums; Lars Deitrich: alto saxophone (2, 3, 5, 8, 9); Samir Zarif: tenor saxophone (5, 8, 9); Peter Eldridge: voice (6).
Record Label: Sunnyside Records
Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde