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Laila Biali: Your Requests


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Laila Biali: Your Requests
While the jazz pipeline produces plenty of artists who pay no mind to an audience's interests, those types—figures with tunnel vision, in many if not most ways—rarely reach their full potential. Instead, it's the musicians who make it a point to communicate who tend to forge the strongest bonds with those on the receiving end. Laila Biali is one such figure. This JUNO-winning gem of a vocalist, pianist, arranger and songwriter always manages to connect. Biali has a keen awareness that the act of making music does not—or should not—exist in a vacuum, and that those who create are often best fueled by people who'll be hearing their creations. Her success, be it through covers or finely-crafted originals, has always been linked to the understanding of a need for receptive ears, and that fact is magnified with this listener-friendly project.

Focusing on standards for the first time in a decade, Biali plays right to her people. Having specifically asked social media followers for some requests, they obliged with more than 150 entries. Eager to honor their wishes, Biali went through the list and picked ten classics, put her inimitable arranging stamp on all of them, and then hit the studio. Working with an ace band including saxophonist Kelly Jefferson, bassist George Koller, drummers Larnell Lewis and Ben Wittman, and percussionist Maninho Costa, she found the perfect balance points in both honoring and personalizing the material.

Opening with a take on "Bye Bye Blackbird" that vacillates between straight time in seven and a driving 4/4 swing, all while showcasing the vocal melody's malleable place in time and spotlighting Jefferson's tenor and Lewis' handiwork, it's immediately obvious that this is not your basic standards session. Add to that an evocative take on "Blame It On My Youth" with textural enhancements from organist Sam Yahel and it's clear that stylistic variety within the greater whole is another early selling point for the program.

As Biali moves toward the center of the album she welcomes a variety of high-profile guests into her music. Not surprisingly, each and every one of them brings their own brand of magic to bear on her artful arrangements. Anat Cohen's clarinet makes a winning appearance on an effervescent, Brazilian-bound take on "But Not For Me." Gregoire Maret's harmonica obbligato and soloing helps to accentuate the gentle charms of "Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)." And three singers of note each make an appearance alongside the leader: Kurt Elling takes notable melodic liberties during an emotionally on-point rendition of "My Funny Valentine"; Emilie-Claire Barlow meshes beautifully with Biali for an energized "My Favorite Things"; and breakout vocal sensation Caity Gyorgy drops by for a gliding "Pennies from Heaven" buoyed by a "Poinciana"-esque groove.

Leaving those visitors behind for the back end of the set, Biali continues to dazzle while sharing space with some core collaborators. The wonderful marriage between her pure-toned pipes and piano work is key at the outset of a stirring "Autumn Leaves," which later spotlights Jefferson's fiery soprano. Biali engages in a winning pas de deux with Koller on an absorbing "The Nearness of You." And then, throwing a real curveball as a closer, she gives her voice a rest and offers the keys her full attention for a smartly-shaped instrumental take on "All the Things You Are." An outing that's both in tune with Laila Biali's fanbase and musical mindset, Your Requests is a real gift to one and all.

Track Listing

Bye Bye Blackbird; Blame It On My Youth; But Not For Me; My Funny Valentine; My Favorite Things; Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars); Pennies from Heaven; Autumn Leaves; The Nearness of You; All the Things You Are.


Laila Biali: piano and vocals.

Additional Instrumentation

Kelly Jefferson: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophones; George Koller: bass; Larnell Lewis: drums; Ben Wittman: drums, percussion; Maninho Costa: percussion; Sam Yahel: Hammond B3 (2); Anat Cohen: clarinet (3); Kurt Elling: vocals (4); Emilie-Claire Barlow: vocals (5); Grégoire Maret: harmonica (6); Caity Gyorgy: vocals (7).

Album information

Title: Your Requests | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Empress Music Group (North America) / ACT Music (Europe) / CORE PORT (Japan)

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