Laila Biali: Your Requests

Canadian singer and guests produce bristling modern interpretations of old standards, reframing mood, form, harmony and rhythm

1030

Biali’s 2020 album Out Of Dust was an excellent set that revealed the range of her talents as a performer and composer – I enjoyed it a lot. She has a direct, engaging voice, but looking through the set list and concept for Your Requests rang alarm bells, and listening to the album, rightly so.

For anyone who listens to popular music and jazz standards, there is unlikely to be a track on Your Requests that won’t be familiar. Whether you like the interpretations on offer from Biali and friends is, of course, a matter of personal taste.

There is no denying the range of talent on offer – Biali has surrounded herself with first-rate musicians and fellow vocalists. It’s just the modern takes on songs from a very different era that puts a big question mark over the project. Songwriters of old didn’t really do angst, letting the lyrics and performances of the time convey the sentiments in the songs, often in a very understated way that gave them more impact. That’s not the case here, with pretty much every song in these versions being wrung dry of emotion in a way that feels a little bit forced and smacks of trying to be different just for the sake of it.

Kurt Elling’s vocal style is a taste I’ve yet to acquire and nothing on his duet with Laila on My Funny Valentine convinces me that I’m missing anything. Give me Chet Baker’s wistful, spare, version of this standard any day of the week.

It’s the slightly contrived feel to Your Requests that makes it a disappointing listen. Asking your followers on social media what songs they’d like you to record (the approach Biali took for this album) is fine, but on this occasion it’s very much a case of be careful what you wish for.

Discography
Bye Bye Blackbird; Blame It On My Youth; But Not For Me; My Funny Valentine; My Favourite Things; Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars); Pennies From Heaven; Autumn Leaves; The Nearness Of You; All The Things You Are (45.00)
Biali (v, p, kyb); George Koller (b); Larnel Lewis, Ben Whittman (d); Kurt Elling, Emilie Claire Barlow, Caity Gyorgy (v); Anat Cohen (cl); Gregoire Maret (hca); Michael Davidson (vib); Kelly Jefferson (ts, ss); Maninho Costa (pc). No date or location provided, c. 2022.
ACT 9055-2