It is impossible to understate the prodigious gifts of Laila Biali; a pianist of considerable virtuosity and a vocalist of great delicacy who can also be vivacious and powerful. You experience all of this in all its glory on the music of Out of Dust.
This music is drenched in emotion, and because Miss Biali has supreme command of hers, she is able to deliver the lyric with just the right measure of it, whether it is sadness or deep melancholia, mellowness or effervescence. Each is delivered with very special grace throughout the repertoire of this spectacular album.
We know from the publicity that accompanies the record that this music comes from a deeply meditative space. Yet even though we think we would have a sort of pre-conceived notion of what to expect Miss Biali’s music here she continues to surprise us with the passion of her delivery. All but two of the songs are written (one of those is co-written with drummer and husband, Ben Wittman and the other with her son) by her and they all come from a very deep place. What is most unique about her music is that they seem to be written by nerve-endings of her fingers rather than pencil on paper. Best of all is the fact that when she starts to sing, the black dots fly off the paper and ignite the air around the room.
It’s a pity that we are missing the lyrics to these tunes in the package. I suspect they will reveal a poetry all their own. Still, with what we are able to glean from this (superb) recording is the extraordinary intimacy and intensity of thought, which prompts me to suggest and think of Miss Biali’s writing as being the poetry of feeling. Despite the fact that there is an overarching ache in many of the songs, these feelings of sadness do make way for feelings of joy and when they do we have such ebullience as in “Sugar”. Even before this there is, of course, Miss Biali delivery of the hugely powerful gospel-soaked music of “Revival”, which opened the album, after which followed music with roller-coaster emotions.
Miss Biali’s voice is itself a lustrous instrument; high-sprung and pristine. Its mellifluous timbre beguiles unendingly in the beautifully-crafted arrangements of mesmeric variety and sensuousness. Her interpretation of Sonia Johnson’s extraordinary song (sung in French) “Au pays de Cocagne” is exquisite, especially in the manner in which she (Miss Biali) seems not so much to sing as to caress each phrase. And just when you thought things couldn’t get any better she raises her game on Gregory Porter’s “Take Me to the Alley”… dare I suggest that this version dazzles with greater poignancy than his?
Finally this production: It is simply magnificent. Musicians – especially Godwin Louis on “Broken Vessels” – are completely attuned to Miss Biali’s artistry and vision of the record. Each plays his part – in both soli and ensemble – not only idiomatically but also with virtuosity above and beyond, all of which combines to make this an utterly flawless recording… one to absolutely die for.
Track list – 1: Revival; 2: The Monolith; 3: Glass House; 4: Wendy’s Song; 5: Sugar; 6: Alpha Waves; 7: Au pays de Cocagne; 8: Take Me to the Alley; 9: The Baker’s Daughter; 10: Broken Vessels; 11: Take the Day off
Personnel – Laila Biali: vocals, piano, keyboards, background vocals and ‘tongue’ drum; Rich Brown: electric bass (1, 3, 5, 9, 10); George Koller: contrabass (2, 4, 6-8); Larnell Lewis: drums (3, 5, 9); Ben Wittman: drums (1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10) and percussion; Glenn Patscha: organ (1, 2, 5, 8,-10) and keyboards (1, 2); Godwin Louis: soprano saxophone (soloist 2, 3, 9, 10); John Ellis: tenor saxophone (soloist 1, 4, 8), tenor and bass clarinet (1, 5, 9); Mike “Maz” Maher: trumpet (1, 5, 9) and background vocals (6); Remy Le Boeuf: alto saxophone, flutes and clarinet (1, 5, 9); Alan Ferber: trombone and horn arrangements (1, 5, 9); Drew Jurecka: violin and string arrangements (2 – 4, 6, 7); Rebekah Wolkstein: violin (2 – 4, 6, 7); Shannon Knights: viola (2 – 4, 6, 7); Lydia Munchinsky: cello (2 – 4, 6, 7); Lisa Fischer: background vocals (1, 4, 5); Jo Lawry: background vocals (1, 2, 5, 8, 10); Michelle Willis: background vocals (1, 2, 5, 8, 10); Dennis Collins: background vocals (1, 2, 5, 8, 10); Adam Thomas: background vocals (9)
Released – 2020
Label – Chronograph Records (CR085)
Runtime – 50:37