Music for Music: Becca Stevens
Becca Stevens: Visionary As Team Player
By Dan Ursini ©2018
Becca Stevens is a gifted songwriter and arranger, singer and instrumentalist, intent on investigating the full amplitude of her talents. That has meant releasing ambitious original music, including her exceptional album Regina, and fronting her own band. It has also meant a string of adventurous collaborations, particularly membership in Lighthouse, a greatly talented quartet with Michelle Willis and Michael League, founder of Snarky Puppy. The fourth member is David Crosby, and it is the best band he’s been in since Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
YouTube has many videos documenting their work, including renditions of songs like Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” which CSNY first recorded in the Sixties:
A complex vocal showcase, it offers gorgeous harmonies throughout. This is just the sort of music which Becca Stevens excels at. The unconventional tunings she often uses on guitar allow for challenging melodies and chords. She betrays an uncanny ease with mystifying harmonies and rhythms.
A highlight of the Regina album is “Queen Mab,” a musical setting for a monologue from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mab is a fairy queen who brings both love and madness to her human targets. The music Stevens creates for Mab is imbued with both charm and menace—perfect for depicting a royal creature tiny in scale but capable of throwing spells of sensational consequence. The vocal arrangement is a marvel of eerie inflections.
The lyrics Rebecca Stevens writes for her own music, however, are marked by a generous heart. The message of “Lean On” is “Grab a hold, love / I can hold us.” The music is arresting and memorable.
This video shows her preference for working with very gifted musicians who understand concision. It is a collaboration with a Dutch jazz group, the Chamber Tones, featuring a soaring solo on bass clarinet by Joris Roelofs.
As a musical thinker, Becca Stevens displays a deep understanding of the architecture of a musical composition. Whether she is performing, arranging, or writing something original, she knows how to make the song come alive. This acumen is compellingly expressed through some of her covers. She creates radical new arrangements which nearly sound more authentic than the originals. An excellent example is her version of Stevie Wonder’s “As” a barreling gospel-inflected soul composition.
In Becca Steven’s hands it becomes a gentle indie-folk ballad with an Appalachian resonance—and it works especially well as a platform for duet. There is much tenderness in this collaboration with Jacob Collier:
It is equally affecting in this duet with jazz artist Esperanza Spalding:
The work of Becca Stevens shows great flexibility and versatility. Yet she is no chameleon. She excels at injecting the element only she can provide in order to complete a song. She is respectful of the unique contributions of those she works with. She is that rare visionary who is also a great team player.
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org