Ilona Knopfler, who comes from France via Hong Kong with a soulful, belting voice, is being billed as a “jazz singer.” This album doesn’t permit her to confirm that statement. I would say instead that she has taken non-traditional jazz tunes and sung them tastefully, in a classic traditional pop style with jazz inflections, reminiscent of the best of Jack Jones or Marilyn Maye.
For starters, there is a strong cover of Grand Funk’s "Some Kind Of Wonderful" that showcases her strong, energetic voice. This collection also features jazzy retakes of the Zombies’ "It’s The Time Of The Season" and "He’s Not There," both showcasing funky piano solos by Eugene Maslov. The first offers some cool back phrasing by Ilona, and the second allows her to let loose with the pipes. She sings Neil Sedaka’s "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" and Burt Bacharach’s "Alfie" beautifully in a soft and sultry tone, making them definite highlights of the album.
"One," by Harry Nilsson, offers an interesting guitar solo by Pat Kelley and some decent scatting on the outro. "Never My Love" is done by the book, and "Can’t You See" out of the Marshall Tucker Band songbook comes through in a contemporary Nashville pop/country vein. For my money the three strongest cuts on the CD are "Unchain My Heart," "Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood," and & quot;River Man." Why? They sound the least like the originals. They let Ilona Knopfler out from under the staggering shadow of the classic renditions of these songs.
This young lady is a good singer, a very good singer. I just wish the other folks (the producers/arrangers?) would have approached these songs in a more creative manner in regards to what she could have done vocally and/or musically to make them more her own. Let her out of the box, so to speak. It just seems a little too controlled an environment on the rest of the tracks. It's a very comfortable and enjoyable climate to be sure, but why not open the windows every now and then?
Additionally, it would be good to hear if this young lady can indeed tackle jazz: hard hitting, straight-ahead, take-no-prisoners jazz. She certainly has the voice, and perhaps more importantly the instincts of a fine jazz vocalist. At the moment, however, she can rest assured that she has created a fine debut album containing classic 20th century pop for the early 21st century listener.
Personnel: Pat Kelley - Guitar;
Dave Carpenter - Bass;
Lenny Castro - Percussion;
Bill Armstrong - Trumpet;
Eugene Maslov - Piano;
Ilona Knopfler - Vocals.