Jazz Singer/Songwriters Part II: Maria Neckam and Tanya Balakyrska
"Jazz Singer/Songwriters Part I: Louise Van Aarsen and Rebecka Larsdotter"" featured two new artists standing in the middle of the adult contemporary jazz vocals map. Both discs have elements of mainstream acoustic and mainstream contemporary electric jazz and feature original compositions by the singers themselves. Where Maria Neckam and Tanya Malakyrska differ is in their concerted aim to smash genre definition, making all music one.
Austrian vocalist composer Maria Neckam is looking for something new. Her previous recording, Deeper (Sunnyside, 2010), is equally enigmatic, pushing boundaries and pulling hair . The music she produces on Unison has all the hallmarks of avant-garde jazz rubbed with contemporary pop sensibilities. "Pop" is used loosely. This music is unlikely to supplant Lady Gaga or Katy Perry. But, it is not your parents' June Christy either. No, Neckam is trying to stretch out the concept of accessible vocals from whatever direction she can. Her instrument is both refined and pure. She is a well-balanced soprano not afraid to make wordless music with her voice, as she does on the title cut of the disc.
She favors craggy and angular melodies, smacking of experimental zeal. These are melodies defying all the laws of western musical tradition, a gleeful thumb of the nose at convention. The closest existing music to this kind of vocal writing are Nicholas Urie's Excerpts From an Online Dating Service (Red Piano Records, 2009) and My Garden (Red Piano Records, 2011). Neckam challenges her listeners with both her format and presentation, demanding warranted attention.
But all is not dissonant and off-kilter. "January, 2011" is melodically plush, with Neckam wordlessly singing. The piece features a probing guitar solo by Nir Felder that is both expansive and to-the- point. Yes, Neckam is looking to produce something different and does so here. It will continue to be interesting to see how Neckam develops her vision over the next decade. Will conventional wisdom bow to her unconventional approach, or will Neckam change to improve her accessibility? Either way, she may very well usher in the "next new thing."
Ukrainian vocalist composer Tanya Balakyrska reaches beyond cultural and artistic labels to produce The Lviv Sessions. This slim collection of eight original songs is lushly urban with any sharp edges softened in production. This is very tactile music, given its texture by guitarist Alexander Maksymiv, who sets up repetitive grooves within a modest reverb echo, giving the music a cinematic quality. Maksymiv's instrument dissolves into Aaron Parks' Fender Rhodes playing, something best heard on the lilting light "Once Like a Spark." The electric piano always establishes an environment that is otherworldly, one ethereal and modern, even when the modern is old.
"Auburn-Haired Maiden" in title sounds almost folk-music like, but is a light urban-suburban groove buoyed by a simple U2-like guitar figure shrouded beneath Yuri Seredyn's electric piano. "Thank You God" is an angular romp sung with a Chrissie Hynde attitude and Joni Mitchell smarts. Dmitry Bondarev's trumpet solo adds just enough spice. What The Lviv Session is is a waystation in a larger evolution of Balakyrska as an artist. As fine as this music is, it betrays more and better music to come. Her sound is established and now needs only be refined. There will he a kind and fruitful future for Tanya Balakyrska.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Miss You; The Story; Obsessed; Where Do You Think You Will Be?; Unison; Unavailability; Your Kindness; One Day; Solitude; New Orleans; January 2011; I Am Waiting For My Laundry In The Sun And I Have Lost You (Laundry Song); You And I; You Will Remember; Half Full.
Personnel: Maria Neckam: voice, claps/woodblocks (3), glockenspiel (15); Aaron Parks: piano and Fender Rhodes (6, 13); Nir Felder: guitar; Thomas Morgan: bass; Colin Stranahan: drums; Will Vinson: alto sax (2, 5 soloist); Lars Dietrich: alto sax (2, 9, 10, 13, 15); Samir Zarif: tenor sax (2, 5, 9, 10, 13, 15); Kenny Warren: trumpet (5); Mariel Roberts: cello (2, 4, 14); Glen Zaleski: piano (6).
Tracks: New Horizon; Once Like a Spark; Auburn-Haired Maiden; Molly; Tiny Bombs; Nothing's Easier; Thank You, God; Hello to the Spring.
Personnel: Tanya Balakyrska: vocals, backing vocals, keyboards; Alexander Maksymiv: guitar; Igor Hnydyn: drums; Yuri Seredyn: keyboards; Dmitry Bondarev: trumpet.