Here's another sweet-voiced entrant into the pop/jazz sweepstakes who bases her sound on thoughts of love, loss, the human condition, and how life is lived by being acutely aware of fate and circumstance. Maria Neckam has learned her musical lessons via Kate McGarry and Luciana Souza, as well as other N.Y.C. instrumentalists, resulting in this debut album of all-original songs that emphasize the underlying wonder of youth, and the innocent inquiries as to the who, what, when, and why of personal storytelling through music. Her voice bears all of these delightful aforementioned qualities with little edge and remorse, even a certain quiet solitude. Instead these are themes of remembrance and being in the present, not so much looking forward as knowing where one is during periods of growth and self-discovery. Pianist Aaron Goldberg supplies uncomplicated, even minimalist backing on these tunes, straddling pop and jazz barriers with beauty and resolve, while able bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Colin Stranahan do rhythmic duty by toeing their own line. Saxophonists Lars Dietrich (alto) and Samir Zarif (tenor) add occasional, brief colorations, playing together on three cuts. Neckam really sets the tone right off the bat on the title selection (a short and long version bookend the CD) and "Indestructible Fort," as Goldberg's beautiful two-chord piano repetitions that expand ever so slightly inspire vocal lines that glide along, one stating it's "hard to see what's most important" -- very telling. The ballad "When You're in Love" with a contemporary pace, "Blown Away," in its upper-register emphasis and slow 4/4 beat, and "Happy Song," in a blues frame with clockwork timing and vocal overdubbing, all seem thematically typical and a trifle trite. From the opposite end, "Fear" is not so much frightening as it is complex, with 5/4 embedded into 4/4 meters and the two saxophonist pushing and pulling the melody. In the fastest tempo, "Missing You" is a veritable frantic romp with the saxophones, as Neckam relates longing to "devouring my confidence," while the most unusual lyric for "Learn My Tongue" wishes the mind and vocal chords could self-edit better during a light funk where Dietrich and Zarif do most of the talking. This is a credible first effort, as Maria Neckam leans toward contemporary jazz sensibilities with post-pop commercialism, just like her peer group that includes Amy Cervini, Gretchen Parlato, Melody Gardot, and even Duffy or Katy Perry.
by Michael G. Nastos