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Maria Neckam: Unison

Hrayr Attarian By

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Vienna native and New York-based vocalist, composer and lyricist Maria Neckam is one of those rare artists whose work is accessible without being ordinary, and cerebral without being abstruse. Her third release as a leader, Unison, has both artistic originality and commercial appeal and may be the magnum opus of her short career so far.

All fifteen tracks intricate Neckham originals that draw on a variety of influences. The result is less a patchwork and more a single tapestry that shimmers with a variety of hues. True to the heritage of her native city there are strong western classical influences. "Where Do You Think You Will Be" is an intensely spiritual duet with cellist Mariel Roberts, whose baroque arco sound is the perfect foil for Neckam's melancholic vocals. Persian mystic Hafez's poetry, mixed with austere, almost church-like music, creates an ethereal ambience that is both edgy and enchanting.

An equal spirituality prevails on the freer "The Story." Both altoists—Lars Dietrich and Will Vinson—navigate the twists and turns of the piece, backed by a rhythm section augmented by Roberts and tenor saxophonist Samir Zarif's angular punctuations

Neckam matches Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke's words with slightly atonal harmonies on "Solitude." Her agile and impeccable delivery, backed by Dietrich and Zarif's synchronized improvisations, transforms the song into a three-dimensional work of modern art.

The singer also proves herself a capable lyricist. On the title track—a surreal love sonnet—Neckham's brittle yet elastic voice infuses it with art-pop sensibilities, while Vinson's melodic sax and Kenny Warren's complex muted trumpet push it, meanwhile, closer to the jazz realm.

Despite the undeniable strength of her many talents, the one at which she most excels, perhaps, is her vocalise. Her wordless singing rises, like a soprano saxophone, over pianist Aaron Parks' modal lines on "January 2011 (Dedicated to David Kashara)," and trades bars with Nir Felder's bluesy electric guitar. Thus, in keeping with the theme of the record, she molds two separate lines of thoughts into a single, stimulating and emotive performance.

In a field dominated by whispering gamines and Peggy Lee clones, Neckam's uncompromising individuality is a refreshing digression. This album is a perfect, multifaceted product of that temperament that should satisfy both the jazz purist and casual listener.

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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