Originality is a key to gaining notice. Vocalist Maria Neckam attempts that with Deeper, a set of all-original songs on Sunnyside Records.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Neckam studied at the Manhattan School of Music and has worked with David Binney, The Mahavinshu Project and others. On this date, she’s accompanied by pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Colin Stanahan. Saxophonists Lars Dietrich (alto) and Samir Zarif (tenor) appear on selected tracks, and vocalist Peter Eldridge contributes to “I Remember.”

The title song starts the set. It’s a tranquil piece with subtle play on bass, piano and drums, complementing the alto flute-like vocal. The beauty comes through during a wordless vocal interlude. Stranahan punctuates key points during this sequence with rolls on the snare and toms, enhanced by splash and crash cymbals.

Neckam scats to open the bouncy “Happy Song.” Dietrich delivers a spirited, expressive solo. Neckam harmonizes with an overdub on the chorus, making for a charming, overall feeling. The subdued ballad “When You’re In Love” is placid for the first four minutes. Then, with a roll on the drums, Neckam lets go of any inhibitions. “All these feelings in your head and your heart, that you hold onto, you hold onto,” she sings emphatically while the core trio of sidemen play with more intensity.

Zarif sits in on “Fear,” which at nearly eight minutes is the longest track on the recording. The melody is dissonant, but the middle break is a lesson in stretching out. Marked by some crisp rim shots and piano fills, the tenor solo is a story unto itself. Zarif takes the instruments to extreme highs and lows, rumbling through some phrases and squealing on others. Alto and tenor saxes bring things down slowly, setting up a vocal chant by Neckam. Her voice is a wind instrument, underscored by bass, piano and drums.
There are times when Neckam’s singing seems far from polished, but that’s part of her charm. The music of Deeper is happy one moment, worried the next. Whichever the case, it’s always passionate.