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First Play: Laila Biali, self-titled

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Robert Rowat

"There's something about being in motion that sets my mind at ease," says pianist and singer-songwriter Laila Biali in the promo video for her new self-titled album — her seventh full-length — that's streaming in the player to your left until its Jan. 26 release on Chronograph Records.

That helps explain why Biali, who divides her time between New York and Toronto and has recently started hosting CBC Radio 2's Saturday Night Jazz, can be so productive.

"I find I write a lot of music, especially lyrics, on the road," she explains. "I can get into a space where I can access creative ideas without as much judgement." And when she needed to rid herself of all distractions, Biali secluded herself at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity for some seriously focused songwriting.

While the material is classic Biali, which is to say a mix of original songs and smart, arresting covers, she says this is the most authentic project she has released to date.

"This album feels like an arrival, a homecoming," she reflects, "the culmination of years of work and being out there, as a professional jazz musician and then as a singer-songwriter. It feels not like a musical rebirth, but like this is truly the amalgamation of everything I've explored thus far as a musician, as a solo artist."

With a band that includes Larnell Lewis (drums), George Koller (bass) and Sam Yahel (organ), Biali ensures there's a foundation of jazz throughout the album's 12 tracks, with intriguing layers of indie-pop and rock built into the sound.

Co-produced by Biali and her husband, Ben Wittman, the album covers a big emotional range, from the groovy, piano-driven opening track, "Got to Love," to "Queen of Hearts," a sultry boogaloo co-written by Randy Bachman; from Randy Newman's tender "I Think it's Going to Rain Today," which Biali inhabits alone at the keyboard, to Coldplay's "Yellow," a cover rendered with imaginative colours, impressive power and apparent respect for the original.

Laila Biali will be released on Jan. 26. You can pre-order it here.

Check out this acoustic version of Coldplay's "Yellow," shot at Fuss Hair Salon in Toronto:

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