By William Leurer
CALGARY – Laila Biali believes in making jazz music that captures her genuine emotions to connect with her audience on a personal level. This vulnerable approach to music is in plain view on Biali’s newest studio album LAILA BIALI.
Biali says that this album “really is who she is” and that “everything is there”, and although this album does mark a dedicated return to a more traditional Jazz format from her previous work, “all the threads are on this record for the first time.”
Her second album of all original compositions and arrangements, Biali took care to craft a record that maintains a cohesive sound in order to bind the multiple musical influences together. She chose to pull from gospel, soul, and contemporary jazz while weaving the organ throughout to get at a more urban sound.
Her skill as a pianist is highlighted right from the start with the soulful single “Got to Love”, while the album nicely blends in softer melodic lines (“Wind”) right next to a funky bass driven jazz cover of David Bowie’s “Lets Dance”. For jazz fans, this album allows the traditional sounds of piano and trumpet to shine with moments of beautiful improvisation, while using vocals and pop influences to remain accessible to anyone curious about sophisticated contemporary pop sounds.
Fans of Biali’s won’t be surprised to learn that this album is the result of a long and talented music career that has delved into many different genres in the industry.
Her family enrolled Biali in Royal Conservatory of Music lessons at a young age after hearing her plunk out the melody of Sesame Street on the home piano without any previous musical experience. Growing up in West Vancouver, she dreamed of becoming a professional classical pianist. However, a car accident in her early teens cut short her classical career due to issues with her arm.
Biali then transitioned to jazz. She was a percussionist in the Big Band, and a pianist in a trio, playing solos on the keyboard using only one arm. From there she won a scholarship to attend Humber College in Toronto as a jazz vocalist – something she as yet had no experience in.
While at Humber, she attended a Kenny Wheeler concert that cemented her love of Jazz. Biali says that Wheeler brought a beautiful and melodic quality to the genre that was emotionally heightening and moved her to tears.
As Biali’s career progressed, she added a third musical genre to her professional repertoire: pop music. The CBC commissioned her album From Sea to Sky, where she adapted mainstream Canadian songs for a Jazz audience. Shortly thereafter Biali began working with other popular artists such as Paula Cole and Sting.
Biali hopes that one theme that resonates with audiences in her newest album is that of home. She recorded this album over two years during her move back to Toronto from Brooklyn. During a time of so many transitions, she says that this album became a kind of home for her and her family.
Laila Biali performs August 18 at Jazz at the Lake (Sylvan Lake), November 23 at The Banff Centre (Banff), and November 24 at The Nick (Calgary).A vulnerable craft, Jazz at the Lake, Kenny Wheeler, Laila Biali, The Banff Centre, The Nick