There's no denying the respective talents of drummer and composer Scott Neumann, saxophone and melodica player Michael Blake, and bassist Mark Helias. And thanks to the spacious sound of Blessed, the Neu3 Trio's studio debut, each player's contributions come through loud and clear. However, while the project is undeniably tasteful and enjoyable it falls just short of distinctiveness.
On the title track, which opens the proceedings, Neumann sets the overall tone fo the album. His drumming is clean and crisp--even his fills are precise--echewing flash in favor of swing and sway. And while his solo late in the piece is exuberant, he keeps his energy focused rather than shooting sparks indiscriminately. Helias, a model of consistency and support, echoes this approach.
Blake is the showiest instrumentalist here, as well as the most stylistically caried. On the Roswell Rudd-penned "Keep Your Heart Right," the saxophonist pays homage to Rahsaan Roland Kirk by way of cheeky squawks, squeaks and blats, not to mention blurting the tune's title through his horn several times. But never does he fully lose himself in the moment. The ecstasty is contained, not thrillingly out of contol.
The pleasures of the recording may be modest at times, but they remain substantial. Noteworthy moments include Helias' supremely confident spotlight section in "Clamba" and Blake's flavorful melodica lines in "Garbanzo." Neumann displays a gift for arranging throughout, but especially on the deceptively simple "Blues for RQ" and on "The Syracusian," which challenges the geography inplied by its moniker with a bouyant Big Easy beat.
For all its positive attributes, though, "Blessed" never quite comes into its own. Neumann and company seem to be holding back, as opposed to going for broke.