For jazz in the 1980's and 90's, the solo artist was king. It wasn't uncommon for a single instrumentalist or singer to be featured on album art or the marquee, or for a recording to boast an army of sidemen, perhaps multiple rhythm sections. The outcome of this was indeed a lot of great music, but most of it lacked a cohesive vibe.
Of course, the opposite was true in pop and folk music. Bands would toil for years creating a sound, brought to the listener in the form of highly rehearsed (and memorized) songs. There was more to music for these musicians than the cleverness of the chart and the chops of the soloists. In its typical way, jazz is catching up to the rest of music. Becca Stevens, in this way and a few others, is the archetype of the modern jazz singer.
It's true, I consider Becca Stevens a jazz singer. Not because I believe she ought to be legitimized by being included in the genre, but because jazz could use a jumpstart with the inventiveness that her music promises. Most jazz musicians will be inclined to claim Stevens as a member of their team. But Becca Stevens has no stringent alliances. She is a citizen of music in all of its taxonomies.
If the band were playing simple music, their sound alone might be good enough to carry them. This, however, is not the case. The compositions and arrangements are some of the most harmonically and rhythmically advanced that I have heard from a jazz vocalist. In this respect, if you're a fan of what Gretchen Parlato has been doing with Lionel Loueke for the past few years, you will certainly be into this album.
The highlights of Weightless are the original pieces such as "Weightless" and "Canyon Dust." I couldn't imagine anyone else playing these songs, which perhaps is the primary goal of any band. The covers on the album, including The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” Seal’s “Kiss from A Rose,” Animal Collective’s “My Girls,” and Iron and Wine’s “Each Coming Night," however, seem to have the opposite effect. They sound too much like the original version. This is where I miss the improvisational aspect of jazz. Brad Mehldau plays Radiohead relatively straight ahead, but then he solos over it. And that's what we all tune in to hear. I'm not sold in that way with these covers.
April 19th, 2011 on Sunnyside Records
- Becca Stevens – Vocals, Guitar, Ukelele, Charango
- Liam Robinson – Accordion, Keyboards, Vocals
- Chris Tordini – Bass
- Jordan Perlson – Drums, Percussion
- I’ll Notice
- There is a Light That Never Goes Out
- Traveler’s Blessing
- The Riddle
- Kiss From a Rose
- How to Love
- Canyon Dust
- My Girls
- No More
- You Can Fight
- Each Coming Night