She has worked with Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, P.Diddy, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Michael Jackson, Cher, and many others and released the album “Sunny One Day” in 2007. Now she comes up with “Life”, an album of standards old and new plus original compositions – just about the perfect repertoire for an admirable album. The arrangements on the album here are both unique and innovative, spot-on and delicious, like on the album opener “There Is No Greater Love” or on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”. Chris Parks and Dave Archer are responsible for the haunting, mystical arrangements. The former classic gets a pumping, driving force working effectively with two drummers (Eric Brown and Adam Jackson) with Casey Benjamin on vocoder and the latter is almost not recognizable anymore thanks to the fancy interpretation and mixture of acoustic (very cool piano solo by Dave Archer) and electric.
Vivian’s voice is especially strong and powerful on Stevie Wonder‘s “Superwoman” where she’s easily taking it to the skies, underscored by fantastic drum work courtesy of Donald Edwards and piano by Shedrick Mitchell. She can both sound like an angel, but also more of a siren where necessary, but never takes it too far which is highly appreciated. But she’s not only a brilliant singer, but also a veritable songwriter as witnessed in the heavenly “Dreaming Of A Boy” where her tender and soft spot comes to the fore and where she’s accompanied by trumpeter Keyon Herrold and harpist Brandee Younger. The combination of Rhodes, harp, and trumpet and her angel-like voice is truly a highlight on the album and a 6:30 minute masterpiece.
The intro to the Nina Simone classic “See Line Woman” sounds like a Masters At Work production with its minimal percussion/electro workout and the track itself is treated more like a jam or a groove than a proper song (and features Donny McCaslin on tenor sax) and is yet another showcase for Vivian’s immensely fluctuating voice. Here’s another highlight: I have rarely heard such an amazing version of “People Make The World Go Round” than the one on this album. Warm Rhodes (Shedrick Mitchell), very hip drum work (Chris Parks/Martin Valihora) and Vivian is shining bright on this one. Just to hear her sing the one word “people” in the second chorus of the song is just so funky.
Her fresh take on “Lush Life” is another amazing add to this collection – it is easily the best version of the Billy Strayhorn classic I’ve heard since Donna Summer‘s Quincy Jones-produced interpretation from 1982. Here again, many singers would have struggled with the word “too” which Vivian easily bends and stretches and floats around with, with Rhodes and brass/string arrangements just adding a lot of urgency and immediacy, turning the outro into something highly mesmerizing. Still relevant today is the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit” – not only (and disappointingly so) because of its lyrics, but also because Vivian has come up with a haunting, formidable arrangement putting things into perspective.