It was an interesting coincidence to open her act with “Got To Love”, a song about gentrification and about her old Brooklyn neighborhood being transformed over the years, in a new boutique hotel right in the middle of Kreuzberg’s Oranienstrasse (yes, the same street where we ended up partying all night long in the early 90s in now defunct bars) which also faces a lot of protests because people fear a reassessment of their old “Kiez”.
The song is from Laila Biali‘s upcoming, self-titled album, to be released on ACT Music on January 26th. The album features her own band plus guests like Ambrose Akinmusire, Sam Yahel, and Lisa Fischer. Last night at Hotel Orania, she played music from that album in a rare solo set. Laila’s voice has certainly been getting stronger over the years and there is this special aplomb while she is singing and accompanying herself on piano (last time I saw her here in Berlin was about three years ago – check out my review on these pages).
One of her fortés is the way she mixes tunes: from a very tender and moving “Nature Boy”, she segues into “Refugee”, another one of her new songs about the Syrian crisis with all its dramatic effects, hope and dreams. Her songwriting skills are pretty varied and diverse and with pieces like “Satellite”, she also shows her ability to delve into genre-bending territory. The song is pretty catchy and adventurous at the same time. The same applies for “Dolores Angel”, a story about a terminally ill girl who happens to fight her disease – all wrapped up in a well-structured song where Laila can also shine as a fine pianist.
I can’t praise Laila enough for proving once again that repertoire is key. In addition to her own material, she includes only one standard in her set, the very apropos “Autumn Leaves”. She also covers Joni Mitchell‘s “Woodstock” and includes it in one of her signature medleys, and she plays a beautiful version of Randy Newman‘s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” for her encore. It is one of three non-original tunes on her new album. She includes an audacious interpretation of Coldplay‘s “Yellow” and a fascinating “Let’s Dance”, where she manages to echo the familiar grooviness of Nile Rodgers‘ work on this David Bowie classic with just her voice and the piano.