Published Jan 31, 2018Former nominee for a jazz Juno, Laila Biali's traditional weapon of choice is keyboard. On many songs on her self-titled swing-for-the-pop-chart fences, her keyboard virtuosity is present, yet functions as a tool of rhythm and to present an understated wellspring of emotional atmosphere. She has taken steps to show that she is more than just keys, as the sound of her signature instrument is often more like rain on the windshield than waves lapping over the bow.
The album itself is expansively produced and not without tumult in the styles or arrangements. It is conspicuously a poppy record, but without ever straying from jazz fundamentals, often with very exciting results. Tempos go fast and choirs, strings, guitars, and of course the reliable piano take these tunes to all corners of Biali's expansive range.
It's not just the beats that swing on scorchers like the gospel-infused opener "Got to Love" or the progressive futurism of "Code Breaking," but Biali is also to swing from paradigm pop jazz to adult contemporary tropes with efficacy and confidence, each song, whether with a splash of schmaltz or a tingle of paranoia, arriving a fully formed work.
As classic or scintillating as her original compositions may be, Biali is unafraid to step to the gods on a few audacious covers. There has been much ballyhoo about her take on radio rock via her slow burn version of Coldplay's "Yellow." This is a must for diehard Coldplay fans who have just discovered jazz, or those that enjoy the sub-genre of "songs that would be appropriate as the hero of a romantic comedy runs in the rain." The choice covers are a minimalist and heart-wrenching discovery of Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," as well as the album closer, a cheeky, yet sophisticated rhythm section-driven bump through David Bowie's "Let's Dance." It ends the record with a spacey jam-out nod to the fact that this woman makes music for the moonlight, the "serious moonlight."
Many who are trying to do this much would achieve little, but this record is the presentation of someone accomplished and brave, working in a safe milieu, but such a gifted player and natural risk taker that the album retains a fresh edge. (Chronograph)