Laila Biali: River
The Toronto jazz/pop singer/songwriter turns her focus to an ambitious new series of covers of Joni Mitchell material. It is off to a grand start with this sparse solo take on a Mitchell holiday season classic, one featuring fluent piano and subtly expressive vocals.
By Kerry Doole
Laila Biali - "River" (Chronograph Records): The Toronto jazz/pop artist is no slouch as a songwriter, but she is taking a brief respite from creating original material to concentrate on interpreting the work of a key inspiration and influence, Joni Mitchell.
Beginning on Jan. 21 –75 days after Mitchell’s 75th birthday – Biali will take listeners on a journey through the Mitchell catalogue, arranging and releasing 75 minutes worth of covers. As a teaser, this week Biali released this rendition of "River," a Mitchell song that has become a seasonal classic.
Biali doesn't stray much from the song's original template. The solo performance showcases her fluency as a pianist, while the vocals possess her signature subtlety, allowing the poetic lyrics to take centre stage.
In a press release, she explains her love of Mitchell's music: “When I first heard Joni's music, I discovered a whole new world of beauty. Her voice, her phrasing, her poetry, the storytelling – it all left me breathless at the power and possibilities of art. I think that's why so many musicians love to cover her work. To us, the songs Joni wrote are an invitation to enter the depths of her creativity and boldness, and to become better art-makers ourselves in the process.”
Laila Biali has toured with Chris Botti, Paula Cole, Suzanne Vega and Sting. She has headlined festivals and venues spanning five continents including Carnegie Hall. Her accolades include SOCAN Composer of the Year and Keyboardist of the Year at Canada’s National Jazz Awards, a Juno nomination for her studio recording, Tracing Light, and a spot on DownBeat Magazine’s Best Albums of the Year list for her follow-up Live in Concert.
In 2015, Biali released her first album of entirely original music, House of Many Rooms – an indie-pop project featuring a star-studded lineup. Her latest project, a self-titled album released in January, debuted at #1 on iTunes Canada and won her the top prize for Jazz in the 2018 Canadian Songwriting Competition. She is also the current host for CBC Music’s national radio show, Saturday Night Jazz.
She plays Little Trinity in Toronto tonight (Dec. 21), NYC's Rockwood Music Hall on Jan. 5, and the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts in Richmond Hill, ON, on Feb.7.