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Maria Neckam: Unison

Dan Bilawsky By

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Sophisticated pop, art song and modern jazz don't often get along, but vocalist Maria Neckam is the tie that binds them. The Austrian-born, New York-based Neckam turned plenty of heads with Deeper (Sunnyside, 2010), which featured her entrancing soprano and showcased her strong songwriting skills; she returns with an equally engaging program on her sophomore outing for the Sunnyside label.

Neckam refracts varied sounds and musical ideas throughout this fifteen-song program, allowing her thoughts to move in multiple directions rather than straight lines. She proves to be an unusually flexible, omni-directional vocal personality capable of crafting a sundry assortment of spellbinding songs.

While she opens the door and invites everybody in with the most pop-leaning piece on the album ("I Miss You"), the many faces of Neckam are revealed, once passing through that aural threshold and entering her world. "The Story" deals with episodic shifts, from art music to spoken word to sunnier settings that develop and decompose, while "Obsessed" makes it clear that Neckam shapes her music to the beat of her own words, not the strict time that's so commonplace in the world of vocal music.

Aaron Parks mans the piano for the majority of this date, bringing his dramatic moodiness to bear in stunning fashion, but Glenn Zaleski takes over on "Unavailability," which opens with a beautifully eerie piano passage. Neckam has a proclivity for string and voice encounters, and has some well-suited partners onboard to help play out this preference. "Where Do You Think You Will Be?" and "You Will Remember" pair her voice with Mariel Roberts' somber cello work, while Neckam and bassist Thomas Morgan engage in a pas de deux on "One Day." Other unique encounters include the musically quizzical "Solitude," built around the words of Rainer Maria Rilke and featuring the two-man team of tenor saxophonist Samir Zarif and alto saxophonist Lars Dietrich, and the heavy hitting "You And I."

Neckam proves to be a fine poet/lyricist, but her wordless vocals may ultimately become her calling card. When she leaves lyrics behind, she works in the area of sound painting ("January 2011") rather than song craft, taking the music someplace new. While Deeper contained several songs that are far more memorable than any single track from this album, Unison is a more mature and musically adventurous journey that does a better job of presenting Neckam from every angle, if such a thing is even possible.

Track Listing: I Miss You; The Story; Obsessed; Where Do You Think You Will Be?; Unison; Unavailability; Your Kindness; One Day; Solitude; New Orleans; January 2011 (Dedicated To David Kashara); 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, woodblocks (3), glockenspiel (15); Aaron Parks: piano, Fender rhodes (6, 13); Nir Felder: guitar; Thomas Morgan: bass; Colin Stranahan: drums; Will Vinson: alto saxophone (2, 5); Lars Dietrich: alto saxophone (2, 9, 10, 13, 15); Samir Zarif: tenor saxophone (2, 5, 9, 10, 13, 15); Kenny Warren: trumpet (5); Mariel Roberts: cello (2, 4, 14); Glen Zaleski: piano (6).

Title: Unison | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


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