Published Apr 15, 2015House Of Many Rooms is a collection of varied experiences, sounds and memories organized in some semblance of a place one might call home. Laila Biali, classically trained pianist turned Juno-nominated jazz artist turned supporting keyboardist/singer for Sting and others, welcomes us into her first album of entirely original material knowing full well we may be surprised by what's on offer. The album is noticeably more mature pop than anything, but not at all in a compromising way.
What sets House Of Many Rooms apart from the typical adult contemporary pack is its commitment to eschewing complacency. Biali and husband Ben Wittman's productions take frequent second and third act twists within four-minute windows. "You," one of the album's pre-release singles, begins with a most melancholy saw solo before giving way to a second line swing that disappears entirely as a distant 78rpm-sounding piano waltz acts as a bridge. It would be ridiculous if it didn't work, but "You" is exhilarating.
Children are a recurring theme; they're the subject of the ukulele-based, celebratory "Little Bird," but they also drive "Sparrow," which expresses heavy-heartedness for a friend's pregnancy that didn't come to term and the deceptively pleasant-sounding, string-fuelled "Shine," a reflection on the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. This acknowledgement of loss and value carries over to "Plainclothes Hero," one of the album's simpler, straightforward songs about an early backer of Biali's who parlayed a five-month terminal diagnosis into a number of active and rewarding years.
There are comparisons to be made between House of Many Rooms and Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society; both take jazz sensibilities and songwriting approaches to create something new. This is especially evident on the Toronto Mass Choir-featuring "Home" and the neo-soul of "Upside Down." Like Spalding, Biali's breathy vocal chops complement the musicianship of the accompaniments here, but it's the sum of Laila Biali's many talents that make House Of Many Rooms so compelling. (Independent)