Connor Desai’s voice has been compared to that of Norah Jones, a little Edie Brickell, a little Rickie Lee Jones, some Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor. Yeah, a little. But this Seattle artist is an extraordinary voice all her own, able to deftly flow over jazz-funk bass notes or American folk guitar strumming, to present her own short stories of relationships, friendships and a leaning toward an easy, breezy life view.
Everything about this singular Seattle artist seems easy-breezy and refreshingly unaffected.
Even more amazing, Desai has an ability to effortlessly make jazz pop, while combining her many influences and styles (primarily indie-folk) together. Jazz in general is a tough cookie to crack into the mainstream; it can be complicated, ethereal and full of off-beats and harmonics most of us only pretend to understand.
Desai’s June 8, 2010 album, Use Your Hands (on Amazon and iTunes), with Spokane producer Chris White and former Secret Stairs band members — bassist Alex Trzyna and drummer Mike O’Doherty—is full of tunes that marry jazz with other musical styles to become an easy listening and grooving series of hits. Desai manages to break down jazz into its more pleasing parts… the experimentation, the intelligence, the full-bodied pairings, the cute as hopscotch melodies… in a winning presentation of art, style and verve.
The #3 track, “At All,” borrows a gently swaying, bossa nova vibe from Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes’ 1960s hit, “The Girl From Ipanema.” “Say It Again,” #2, is Motown meets jazz all the way. And #1’s “Waiting” has lyrics of pure, spare, quietly clever poetry that blends seamlessly with the lilting guitar and keys (“pour a glass of milk, white like spider silk, and leave it overnight”).
The album has been embraced by critics and audiophiles for this very reason. Most of the tracks have been written (plus a Grateful Dead cover!) by co-producer Desai, who was raised on the music of Steely Dan, Kansas and Victoria Williams.
“There’s a lot going on behind the songs of this album, and to me it feels representative of the many moods that were present during the time period in which they were written,” Desai described in press for the record. “In the three years between the completion of Use Your Hands and the EP’s debut, I was raising a daughter and gave birth to twins, formed then dismantled a band, and eventually got hooked into the Spokane music scene via Chris White and House of Sound. Because of that spread, I think people will find more variety of sound on this album than expected — it’s admittedly schizo in nature.”
Schizo in nature? Sounds like jazz to me.
Connor Desai released Scratch Pop next, on June 25, 2013. Her latest album, Sister, came out last week Friday, the fourth in a growing trajectory. “It’s been 10 years since I released my first album, and today my fourth album releases on iTunes and Spotify. Music has taught me that, regardless of whether it makes a splash or a drop, the ripple effect works just the same. Whatever your method, make your voice heard. [Connor Desai, Facebook]”