Your Requests Laila Biali, George Koller, Larnell Lewis
Label: ACT Music
Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)
- 1Bye Bye Blackbird04:18
- 2Blame It on My Youth05:29
- 3But Not for Me02:57
- 4My Funny Valentine04:49
- 5My Favorite Things04:28
- 6Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)04:28
- 7Pennies from Heaven05:30
- 8Autumn Leaves05:12
- 9The Nearness of You03:24
- 10All the Things You Are03:59
Info for Your Requests
“Your Requests”, Laila Biali’s third album on ACT, shows a very different side of the craft of the Canadian pianist/vocalist from its predecessors. Both her self-titled debut album, which won the Canadian Juno Award for Best Vocal Jazz album in 2019, and also its successor, “Out of Dust” (nominated for the award in 2021), showcased above all the range, the depth and the sheer quality of the pianist/vocalist/ bandleader’s songwriting. Now, however, for the first time in 10 years, the Toronto-based artist and her band return to jazz standards with a new twist on songs from the Great American Songbook including classics by Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, and Jerome Kern.
For “Your Requests”, she has also assembled a magnificent roster of guests – not just the vocalists Kurt Elling plus fellow JUNO winners Emilie-Claire Barlow and Caity Gyorgy, but stunning instrumentalists as well: clarinettist Anat Cohen, harmonica master Grégoire Maret, Brazilian percussionist Maninho Costa, and Hammond B3 organist Sam Yahel (who made two classic albums, “Yaya3” and “Elastic”, with Joshua Redman in 2002). Biali’s regular collaborators form the core band: drummers Larnell Lewis (Snarky Puppy) and Ben Wittman along with bassist George Koller and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson.
One of Biali’s greatest strengths is how cleverly she is able to connect with audiences. Indeed, quite how well she does that is one of the backstories of the shift back to classic jazz material on “Your Requests”: The album was inspired by Biali’s delight in fulfilling the song requests from her fans. When she asked her social media followers what tunes they’d like to hear her cover, more than 150 songs were submitted. Her aim with these reimaginings of the classic songs which she has chosen from the fans' suggestions is to create something personal and unique, with the hope that listeners will experience familiar songs in a new way. “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 foun-dation - the lyrics and melody - must remain intact, but there's lots of room for play.” And play she does. Biali 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 ultima-te goal is not to improve that which arguably can't be improved – these songs are, after all, classics for a reason.”
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 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. Emilie-Claire Barlow joins Biali for a vocal duet on an exhilirating rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favourite Things”. Scat sensation 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. Biali says of making this recording with Elling: “It was the fulfillment of a dream! I've been a fan for decades.” She describes their version of “My Funny Valentine” as “faithful and fearless – very much in the spirit of jazz.”
“But Not For Me” is re-imagined as a samba and showcases clarinettist Anat Cohen’s virtuosity, 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. The final track is a searing and cleverly reharmonized arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are”.
US journalist Dan Bilawsky of Allaboutjazz has written of Laila Biali: “She often expresses more in a single breath than others do in an entire album.” “Your Requests” is set to prove him right...again.
Laila Biali, vocals, piano, Fender Rhodes
George Koller, acoustic bass
Larnell Lewis, drums
Kurt Elling, vocals
Emilie-Claire Barlow, vocals
Caity Gyorgy, vocals
Anat Cohen, clarinet
Grégoire Maret, harmonica
Michael Davidson, vibraphone
Kelly Jefferson, tenor & soprano saxophone
Ben Wittman, drums & percussion
Maninho Costa, percussion
Award-winning Canadian pianist and vocalist, Laila Biali, has been garnering world-wide recognition for her music which she has performed at prestigious venues including the North Sea Jazz Festival, Tokyo’s Cotton Club, and Carnegie Hall. She has toured with GRAMMY award winners Chris Botti, Paula Cole and Suzanne Vega, and recorded with and supported international icon, Sting.
"She is an exciting and unique talent, and I admire her greatly." (Sting)
Her studio recording, Tracing Light, received a JUNO nomination in 2011 for “Best Vocal Jazz Album of the Year”, and her follow-up album, Live in Concert, was given an enthusiastic four-star review and named one of the “Best Albums of 2013” by DownBeat Magazine.
In 2015, Laila released her first album of entirely original music, House of Many Rooms – an indie-pop project featuring Lisa Fischer (Rolling Stones, 20 Feet From Stardom), Jo Lawry (Sting, Paul Simon), Alan Hampton (Robert Glasper), and the Toronto Mass Choir.
Expanding on her unique “ability to meld traditional jazz with contemporary pop so effortlessly that neither style seems out of place on the same record” (Spinner Magazine), Laila is currently set to release a new album of original songs alongside covers of David Bowie, Coldplay and more.