Singer/songwriter Becca Stevens possesses an enviably talent-laden fan club. Jazz vocal peers like Kate McGarry, Gretchen Parlato and Kurt Elling have publicly hailed her as one of the most original young singers on the scene, and heavyweight players like Brad Mehldau, Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire and Eric Harland have recruited her for projects and recordings. Whatever context she’s working in, Stevens makes a vivid and enduring impression with her rhythmically charged guitar work and translucent sound.
Now, the 29-year-old New Yorker is about to break out as a bandleader in her own right. She celebrates the release of her gorgeous new album Perfect Animal at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center on May 28 and Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage on June 2.
With a rock-inflected sensibility informed as much by American folk music and Björk as Billie Holiday, the album features her longtime collaborators, keyboardist/accordionist Liam Robinson, bassist Chris Tordini, and drummer/percussionist Jordan Perlson. Stevens has been performing with the three for years, but in some circles she's still best known for her work as lead singer in saxophonist Travis Sullivan’s Björkestra, a big band she connected with as an undergrad at the New School. A self-described Björk obsessive, she approached Sullivan after a performance to offer her vocal services as a sub. When the chair opened up, she took over the role and made it her own, performing on the band’s 2008 album Enjoy! (Koch). And though there’s an unmistakable Björkian current running through some of her serpentine melodic lines, Stevens embraces folk, alt-pop, postbop and European classical music as a birthright.
Growing up in Winston-Salem, she started performing with her family’s band the Tune Mammals at the age of two. Led by her father, a composer specializing in sacred choral music, the group performed his playfully folky original songs for children. Her mother, Carolyn Dorff, is an operatically trained singer with extensive experience in musical theater. At 10, Stevens starred with her in a yearlong Broadway touring production of The Secret Garden.
She’s been creating her own magical musical world ever since -- a realm in which Perfect Animal is just the latest strange and beautiful arrival.