Say hello to a stunning voice, on what could be the best jazz vocal album of the year. Ilona Knopfler makes every song a pleasure. She ditches the familiar pop cover tunes from her debut CD and on this second album offers a more personal portrait of a singer who wants to express herself. Between her vision and her showmanship, "Live the Life" is a superior musical tour de force
filled with joie vivre
Get used to the French, because Knopfler's special twist is her fluency in both American English and French. With an international history and homes in both Paris and Georgia, she is neither a French singer singing in English, or an American singing French. It doesn't matter a bit. She effortlessly slides from one language to the other, sometimes in the same song, and thanks to her skill, her feel, and the top-notch musical production, it all works beautifully.
Knopfler's vocal style is smooth honey. Her tone is pure and completely self-assured, and no, you don't need to know French to appreciate her. Although her voice can apparently go any place she wants it to, Knopfler remains in a consistent jazz style throughout the album and avoids the trap of unnecessarily showing off. She expresses herself through the music and therefore respects it, employing her vocal in service of the song. It helps that Knopfler is supported by superior musicians and excellent arrangements.
So this CD is built around the needs of each track, each one getting the appropriate production and accompaniment, no more or less. Some songs, such as the brassy opener "I'm Going to Live the Life I Sing About," get a full swing-band treatment, others get swelling strings ("Ask Me Now") and other tracks use only a small band or less. In keeping with the international flavor, both Latin and Eastern instruments and voices occasionally come in to play. Brazilian artist Ivan Lins contributed one song (the credit unspecified on the review copy but this writer's guess is "But for Now."). Whatever the requirements of the song, Knopfler handles each one with grace and class and just the right amount of power and panache. Even her young daughter makes a contribution.
The result is an album full of interesting variety, yet consistent in style and tone. "Live the Life" is breathtaking, fascinating, and deliciously listenable for anyone who appreciates beautiful singing. This album is likely to be played at elegant dinner parties, but it will distract guests from their conversations. Knopfler apparently has determined what she does best, and delivers it over and over in new ways on each track.
This CD, if it can find the sunlight amid the din of popular culture as Diana Krall did, should establish Knopfler as a top-level international diva of jazz singing, with her own unique style. She really is that good.