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French Actress Irene Jacob Serenades DNAinfo Ahead of UES Concert

By Amy Zimmer | April 23, 2012 7:42am

UPPER EAST SIDE — She lives in Paris. He lives in Brooklyn. She's an art house film luminary with a best actress award from the Cannes Film Festival. He's a jazz composer and guitarist with a home studio in Kensington.

On Monday, however, Irène and Francis Jacob will appear live on the Upper East Side for the U.S. release of their new album.

Irene Jacob — star of  Krzysztof Kieślowski's "Double Life of Veronique" and "Three Colors: Red" — had long wanted to collaborate with her brother, Francis. They finally joined forces, spending nearly three years putting together their album, "Je Sais Nager" ("I Know How to Swim"). Though it was released last May in France, it's arriving stateside next month.

"The writing and recording took some time," Irene Jacob said recently at the French Institute Alliance Française, arriving there on the back of her brother's motorbike. "It took us some time to find our mutual tune, to tune up. … Distance was part of our process. It is a project that crosses borders. We had to cross oceans."

For a sneak preview, the duo, along with a group of global musicians, will host an intimate concert on Monday with wine and conversation at the French Institute — the Upper East Side cultural center where Irène Jacob performed 20 years ago in a version of "The Misanthrope" by Moliere.

The siblings thought it was going to be easy when they decided to finally work together, but they were quickly disabused of that notion once they began writing.

"It couldn't be a ready-made object. Every song has a different atmosphere in the lyrics and also in the music," said Irène Jacob, who has worked with such directors as Louis Malle, Wim Wenders and Michelangelo Antonioni.  

She traveled to New York to spend time working on the album, after emailing ideas and lyrics back and forth. Her brother went to Paris, where the base of the tracks were recorded in her apartment before he brought them back to New York and added layers from Pichio B., a master of Afro-Peruvian percussion, and Mamadou Ba, a Senegalese bassist who was musical director for Harry Belafonte, among others.

Though she had classical training on violin and piano — and sang in "Veronique" — Irène Jacob said her brother's music skills were on another level.

"As Francis' musicians would say, 'It's really complex for your sister.' I haven't been singing for 20 years like Francis has been playing," she said. "I would say things like, 'We have to find something more soft. Or I would say, 'It needs more air. It's not an earth song. You have to imagine a little body in the wind.'"

Regardless, Francis Jacob enjoyed the process.

"We do have a special bond. We're brother and sister. It's more than professional," he said.

Francis Jacob made his home in New York 20 years ago because of his sister. He had been living in Brazil and was planning to move to San Francisco, when Irène Jacob — who was doing a two-month stint at the Actor's Studio — convinced him to come to New York instead.

"So I came, and she left," he said. He became immersed in the city's international music scene, helping form the basis of their album.

"By working in New York as a musician, I have access to wonderful diversity," he said of the works, which include a distinctively international flavor of sounds from Africa to Suriname to Quebec.

It is also unmistakably French: The first three songs they wrote were loosely inspired by a lecture from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

"Je Sais Nager" will officially be released on May 3 with a show at Joe's Pub and a mini-tour of 10 shows in the region. The duo is already working on its second album.

The two will appear at the French Institute Alliance Française, 55 East 59th St., on Monday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $35 for non-members and $25 for members.