Street Date 06/06/12
Maria Neckam's Unison is the proverbial diamond in the rough but at a remarkably high level. Blessed with pristine vocals and an artists soul the only limit as to how high Neckam can fly would be buying into the self defeating limitations that most genres bring with them. Neckam sidesteps strict categorization making Unison the type of release that would drive most critics nuts and have most label executives perched on the nearest ledge outside their office.
Having reviewed close to fifty female vocalists with the year not even half over there are ten that belong in that special niche reserved for true vocal artists such as Maria Neckam and the virtually flawless release of Unison. In a recent conversation with Bob Mintzer of the YellowJackets he stated, "Not everything sucks, everyone has something to offer." ( A critics perspective was the topic of discussion) In a perfect world Mintzer's observation might hold water but there are also two main categories of singers that seem to cross my desk. The first category is the singer with more money then talent and sadly could not find pitch with a map yet her family and friends tell her she has "real talent." The second category is the average to better than average singer that simply plays it safe doing a ten track selection of standards with a decent band and marginal arrangements. No chances taken. No risks. Safe, boring and utterly predictable.
The Austrian born Maria Neckam has the potential to be the future of modern vocal jazz, a limitless genre where the creative envelope is more than pushed it is sent certified mail as with Unison. The key to the success of this particular release aside from the impeccable soprano vocals is the ability to fuse her voice with some diverse original material that comes from a striking sonic color palette that is comparable to no one on the scene today. Another remarkable aspect to Maria Neckam is the uncanny ability to blend naturally with the first call band on Unison. For a great many "singers" the band is but a sonic afterthought, Neckam turns into a musical chameleon with ease and there is an almost spiritual union of sound that transcends genre, time and space.
"Obsesses" is a melodic line that finds Neckam working without a harmonic net but the somewhat emotionally charged twists and turns throughout the tune are captivating in their originality. A lyrically controlled sonic fury of vocal intensity with an organic presentation. While Neckam seems perfectly at home in odd meter she seems to avoid all the typical pitfalls of the artist that does so out of a self indulgent need to become the next flavor of the month. As a searching artist Neckam reaches out to take a poem by 14th century Persian mystic Hafez to a more linear melodic approach including mournful cello accompaniment by Mariel Roberts. The title track "Unison" may be Neckam at her most vibrant apex of creativity. This expansive song cycle complete with horns evokes a spiritual connotation while conducting a most unique vocal exploratory of sound. Neckam is practising Buddhism and the spiritual connection again seems to be reached in "Letters To A Young Poet" which celebrates the joy of happiness in the moment and not the longing for what you may not have now. Being happy with who you are and where you are going. We should all be so lucky.
To accurately describe Neckam's sound would be describing a beautiful sunrise to a person that has been blind since birth. Avant pop, contemporary classical with post bop improvisational voicing would be as close as one could come from a purely technical p.o.v. Maria Neckam is far more than the average singer. Those that travel in my cultural circle know that it is a rare occurrence that I am this enthusiastic with a release but Unison is literally flawless. There are a handful of other artists that I find equally exciting while there are far too many singers that believe finding pitch and "artist" go hand in hand. I can add and subtract but it does not make me an accountant.
One of the most beautiful and unique recordings of the year.
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).
Photo via http://www.marianeckam.com/