October 4, 2015


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Biali broadens definition of jazz with Bowie, Feist renditions

Laila Biali listens to her own songbook muse — a muse with distinct Canadian tastes and a penchant for female singer-songwriters.

And the result is a great jazz show with repertoire from the likes of Sarah McLachlan, K.D. Lang, Jane Siberry, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

And while it’s not exactly the Great American Songbook that jazz fans are accustomed to, the singer/pianist uses her performance and arranging skills to broaden the standard repertoire.

For her Winnipeg International Jazz Festival show Friday night, Biali — a Canadian who spends her time between Toronto and New York — fronted a band comprised of bassist George Koller, drummer Larnell Lewis and one of Canada’s best saxophonists, Phil Dwyer.

She opened her show with McLachlan’s Ice Cream, which featured great ensemble play and the first of Dwyer’s terrific solos, presenting a prime opportunity to hear the saxophonist before Dwyer enters law school in the fall.

Now, Feist isn’t a name that often comes up in discussions about jazz, but Biali’s rendition of Mushaboom opened up the dialogue. She played percussion with rolled up plastic sheets, beating them against her legs as she sang, and played a xylophone that lay atop the piano. It all made sense.

Cohen’s Anthem was a brilliant piece (enough of Hallelujah, already) with great vocals and piano by Biali and yet another terrific tenor solo by Dwyer.

The Best is Yet to Come, a real American Songbook entry, was a crowd pleaser with good performances by Biali, Koller and especially Lewis with great, tasteful drum soloing. Dwyer sat this one out.

Koller opened Nature Boy alone onstage performing a very good bowed bass solo, and played well throughout the 90-minute concert.

Biali’s arrangement of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance was a surprise hit, helped by some monster playing by Dwyer.

The saxophonist, a multi-instrumentalist, played some superb piano on I’ll Never Smile Again as Biali focused on vocals.

The show ended with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s One Note Samba, where it was difficult to determine who was flying highest, saxophonist Dwyer or drummer Lewis.



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