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08/21/12

Maria Neckam
Unison
Sunnyside

How do you solve a puzzle like Maria Neckam, whose fecund creativity emerges from a genre-blurring sensibility that spans jazz, pop, rock, opera, musical theater and sacred hymns? Perhaps the answer lay not in the world of music but of art, specifically Wassily Kandinsky. The abstract pioneer’s passion for geometric and biomorphic expression, belief that colors and sounds originate in the soul, and intense spiritualism all seem inherent to Neckam’s knotty, vibrant tone poems.

Fortunately, she has found eager and superbly gifted copilots in pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Colin Stranahan, her constant musical companions since 2010, plus a newer recruit, guitarist Nir Felder. Led by Neckam’s crystalline soprano, they travel to some remarkable places, many not of this earth, several influenced by her conversion to Buddhism. She wrote the music for all 15 tracks and the lyrics for 12. (The remaining three she crafted from poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda and 14th-century Persian mystic Hafez.)

Every Neckam voyage is a wild one. Highlights include the escalating roil of “One Day,” less a plea than a promise of pending peace, and the kaleidoscopic cacophony of “The Story,” featuring the quintet augmented by saxophonists Will Vinson, Lars Dietrich and Samir Zarif and cellist Mariel Roberts.

Originally published in July/August 2012
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