Laila Biali ‘Laila Biali’ (ACT) 3/5

Canadian singer Laila Biali has already received plaudits from the prestigious jazz magazine Downbeat in 2013 in the album of the year category, but this debut recording for ACT is in fact her sixth album in total, after gaining useful experience touring with some major jazz and pop names ranging from Diana Krall and Dave Brubeck to Suzanne Vega. Furthermore, there is an equally impressive cast list of musicians to accompany her and these include guest spots by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire on two numbers, singer Lisa Fischer (a regular background singer on Rolling Stones tours) as well as Hammond organist, Sam Yahel, who performs throughout. The music veers between jazz and pop idioms, with singer-songwriter territory the most obvious terrain for Biali to occupy and flourish in. The singer interprets a convincing pared down bass-led version of David Bowie’s, ‘Let’s dance’, with piano and organ operating together, while there is a gentle reading of Randy Newman’s ‘I think it’s gonna rain today’. On a reflective piano plus vocal take on Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, Biali creates intimacy in the vocals with a piano that has surely been influenced by Brad Mehldau. However, in parts, the album hints at a wider and infinitely more explorative interest in world roots music, as illustrated on a reading of Iranian/Persian poet Rumi’s, ‘Wind’. As for Biali’s own songwriting ability, this writer enjoyed the mid-tempo reflection of ‘Satellite’, and there is a pop-jazz sensibility to several of her other compositions. While her voice does not have the range of a Rachelle Ferrell, there is a good deal of promise, and even on the overtly pop-rock offering, ‘Refugee’, there is evidence of an awareness of what is happening in the world and a desire to provide social commentary on occasion.

Tim Stenhouse