Drummer Scott Neumann has played Sun Ra tunes and fusion, toured and recorded with newgrass banjoist Tony Trischka and compiled a sideman résumé that ranges from Woody Herman to Joshua Redman to Maria Schneider. But on Blessed, his originals-heavy second release as a leader, Neumann keeps things streamlined and sharp with a pianoless trio featuring saxophonist Michael Blake and bassist Mark Helias.
The best material comes from the tributes. “Ama Dablam,” an homage to a favorite mountain in Nepal, gets percussive intimacy from Neumann, a whiff of funk from Helias and a subtle snake-charmer wiggle from Blake’s soprano. “Blues for RQ,” “Ebb and Flow” and “The Syracusian”—for Neumann’s adopted Vietnamese son, drummer Ed Blackwell and Trischka, respectively—all benefit from elements of New Orleans-style strut and syncopation mixed with advanced postbop interplay. And “Hymn for boB,” for former bassist Bob Bowen, who died in a bicycle accident in 2010, gives Helias a chance to innovate in the delicate free space that is his métier.