Laila Biali


My expectations for this show were low going in, simply because I have become somewhat resistant to hype in recent years and if there is one act in this city that has been hyped beyond belief it's Laila Biali. So I was skeptical, but incredibly curious when I arrived at a filled to capacity Rex to catch Biali with her trio on the last day of the Downtown Jazz Fest.

They started the set with Biali's arrangement of "One Note Samba" which boasts inventive playing and modern sounding chords reminiscent of Terence Blanchard's sound. Things were off to a great start. And while Biali is pretty and young (24!) it's not presentation that she is concerned with while she is leading her band. She throws herself head first into the music, clearly losing herself at times, which is charming and more charming than it might be simply because she is not asking us to be charmed by her, she's just doing her thing. And what is more charming than that?

Biali's originals are ambitious pieces that sound heavily influenced by both classical music and pop. Her playing is particularly intense and rapid on these tunes but her band mates in the trio, also young talents ( Brandi Disterheft - acoustic bass and Sly Juhas - drums) are up to the task.

While I find her playing more interesting than her singing, she has a very listenable quality to her voice and a nice understated approach to lyrics. I liked the fact that she didn't sing a number until three songs into her set, allowing the crowd to appreciate her piano chops before she became just another pretty girl who can play and sing.

The trio also put jazz spins on current pop tunes by Bjork and Dave Matthews, two acts that would be mystifying to a large number of those in attendance at the Rex but whose compositions they clearly loved when interpreted by the trio.

Laila Biali: believe the hype.

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