LAILA BIALI HONORS THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK WITH NEW ALBUM
For the first time in 10 years, multi-award-winning vocalist and pianist Laila Biali returns to jazz standards with an all-star lineup including Kurt Elling & Anat Cohen. Biali breathes new life into songs by Gershwin, Rodgers, Hammerstein and Hart, with her signature modernity and impeccable musicianship.
Release Date: May 26, 2023 (ACT Music, Empress Music Group, CORE PORT)
Highly acclaimed musician Laila Biali is a force on the jazz scene in her native Canada and beyond. The JUNO Award-winner’s distinctive voice is typically on dazzling display in her original music. Now, after ten years recording her own material, Biali turns her attention to the Great American Songbook with Your Requests, her ninth album as bandleader. While showcasing her own impressive skill set, Biali gathers longtime collaborators for the outing: drummers Larnell Lewis (Snarky Puppy) and Ben Wittman along with bassist George Koller and tenor saxophonist Kelly Jefferson.
The shift back to more classic jazz material was inspired by Biali’s delight in fulfilling the song requests of her fans. When she asked her social media followers what tunes they’d like to hear her cover, more than 150 songs were submitted. Your Requests debuts the first collection of Biali’s dynamic and personal arrangements in response to her listeners, a “musical love letter.”
“It's always a delicate balance preserving key elements of the original versions of these classic songs while moving them into new territory,” Biali says. “I liken the arranging process to a renovation. The foundation - the lyrics and melody - must remain intact, but there's lots of room for play.” And play she does. Biali tastefully puts her stamp on these songs without letting the musical reworking run amok, trading an expected swing feel for a more hard-driving straight-eighth groove and reharmonizing more typical chord progressions with thoughtful boldness. “Where the renovation analogy falls short is that my ultimate goal is not to improve that which arguably can't be improved – these songs are, after all, classics for a reason,” she adds. “My aim is to offer something personal and unique with the hope that listeners will experience familiar songs in a new way.”
Right from the first track, a smart and energetic take on Dixon & Henderson’s Bye Bye Blackbird, Biali’s arranging ethos and piano chops are in full force while Jefferson and Lewis trade blistering solos over Koller’s anchoring bass ostinato. A haunting rendition of Blame It on My Youth moves the all-star ensemble, which includes Wittman’s creative and layered percussion, from punchy odd meters to a soulful flowing landscape enhanced wonderfully by B3 master Sam Yahel (Joshua Redman).
For the first time in her recording career, Biali also teams up with several vocalists for enthralling duets. JUNO Award-winner Emilie-Claire Barlow features on an exhilarating rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things. Scat sensation and recent JUNO winner Caity Gyorgy charms on a lilting delivery of Pennies from Heaven, while Kurt Elling lends his bold and brilliant voice to My Funny Valentine. Together in perfect harmony, Biali and Elling guide the well-known love song into a contemporary context to thrilling effect.
Biali shares, “When Kurt agreed to join me on My Funny Valentine, it was the fulfillment of a dream! I've been a fan for decades.” Elling’s delivery of the melody is so adventurous that Biali and her husband and co-producer, Ben Wittman, were initially concerned it might be too much of a departure. “In the end, his melodic reimagining prompted me to explore new melodic possibilities myself, stretching in ways that helped me grow as a vocalist and interpreter in the studio,” Biali reflects. The end result is both faithful and fearless – very much in the spirit of jazz.
When it comes to the Great American Songbook, the Gerswhin brothers contributions are so prolific, one is hard-pressed to find good reason to reimagine their work. However, Biali makes a compelling case, reinterpreting the oft-played But Not For Me as a samba and showcasing clarinetist Anat Cohen. Cohen’s virtuosity is expertly supported by Biali’s exuberant arrangement as the two musicians playfully dialogue atop the bubbling rhythms of Brazilian percussionist Maninho Costa and drummer Ben Wittman.
The final guest appearance on the album belongs to harmonica master Grégoire Maret. Here, Antoñio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) provides the perfect canvas for a lush delivery of the iconic bossa nova.
Together, Biali and this impressive company of all-star guests add notable richness and nuance to muchloved jazz classics with powerful vocals as a constant theme. That is until Biali takes a surprising turn on the final track. For critics tempted to call her “merely” a jazz vocalist, she proves otherwise with a fierce instrumental rendition of Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are. The searing, cleverly reharmonized arrangement closes out the record, reminding listeners that if one wades into familiar waters, they best have something new to say.
Pennies from Heaven feat. Caity Gyorgy
Multi award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter, pianist and CBC Music national radio host Laila Biali has headlined festivals and venues spanning five continents from New York City's Carnegie Hall to Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts, and supported international icon Sting. In 2020, Laila was honoured by SOCAN Music with the Hagood Hardy Award for Excellence in Songwriting. In 2019, Laila’s eponymous release won her a JUNO (Canada's GRAMMY) for "Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.” The year prior, she was awarded top prize at the Canadian Songwriting Competition in the Jazz category. Laila was also the youngest-ever double winner at Canada’s National Jazz Awards when she was named "SOCAN Composer of the Year" and "Keyboardist of the Year." She received her first JUNO nomination for Tracing Light (2011), and a spot on DownBeat Magazine's "Best Albums of the Year" for Live in Concert (2013) and Out of Dust (2020). In September of 2017, Laila was brought on as the host for CBC Music's national radio show, Saturday Night Jazz, a weekly show broadcast to listeners across Canada. While Laila continues to earn high honours in the Jazz world, her signature sound transcends genre as she "masterfully mixes jazz and pop, bringing virtuosity and unpredictability to songs that are concise and catchy" (Washington Post). Laila's highly anticipated album, Out of Dust, which features multiple GRAMMY nominees and winners including Lisa Fischer, Alan Ferber, John Ellis, and Larnell Lewis, released March 27, 2020 and was also nominated for a 2021 JUNO Award.
"The album's production is shimmering, the arrangements are lush and Biali's voice – spanning registers – is pure and warm. She's also fearless on piano and, above else, in her imagination. ★★★★" – DownBeat Magazine
"There's no boxing Laila Biali in ... Capable of making you laugh and cry all at once, her delivery Out of Dust is divine. 4.5 stars." – All About Jazz
"Out of Dust sparkles like a soundtrack for spring." – The Vancouver Sun
"Biali provides the positive, come-together messaging we need in these challenging times.” – Parade
"... moving, inspiring, and life-affirming songs." – SOCAN Music
"This is a wholly confident record from the Juno winner, who continues to be one of the most talented and compelling artists in Canada. Out of Dust is another big step toward global stardom." – JAZZFM.91
“Masterfully mixes jazz and pop, bringing virtuosity and unpredictability to songs that are concise and catchy” – The Washington Post
“A keyboard virtuoso with a distinctive sultry voice - intimate and emotional.” – Toronto Star
“Accomplished and brave ... a gifted player and natural risk taker” – Exclaim! (CA)
“Mellifluous vocals, dynamic pianism and hook-laden songs” – Jazzwise (UK)