Yaala Ballin knows how to share. And that’s special in itself. We first met her at a Marianne Solivan gig at Iridium, where the elegant Ms. Ballin was placed next to us. She had ordered a dessert — which turned out to be a slice of red velvet cake — and although we had only known each other for a matter of minutes, she offered us half. Old-fashioned style.
And then we heard her sing! Frankly, her musical art is more gratifying than any dessert I could imagine. Her new CD, LIVE SESSION, was recorded at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room, in October 2012 — audio and video by Neal Miner. On it, Yalla sings alongside Michael, piano; Ari Roland, string bass; Keith Balla, drums.
Here are the details and audio excerpts of each performance. For those impatient with clicking, the songs are NOBODY ELSE BUT ME / AUTUMN IN NEW YORK / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / HOW LITTLE WE KNOW / FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / ALWAYS.
Yaala Ballin stands out because of her artistic integrity — that gives great delight. Her artistry is very plain: she does not “dramatize”; she does not obliterate the song with her own ornamentations; she does not coo or woo. She does not impersonate any one of The Great Dead.
Rather, she has a beautiful voice, unerring rhythmic command, and courage: her rubato embellishments are both brave and sure-footed. Her singing is confident, assured, as if a great actress strode on stage, sure of herself and her lines, deeply informed about the music she wants to make and the effect she hopes it will have on us. Nothing is studied; there are no faux-spontaneous gestures; her singing seems utterly natural and at the same time powerful, focused. Although Yalla is not yet forty, her singing is mature; we listen to her and relax, secure in her mastery of music and lyrics. She plays with the song while honoring it, as do her superb accompanists.
What she so generously shares with us is remarkable.
But you don’t need to take any of this on faith. Neal Miner has posted videos of LIVE SESSION on the Gut String Records YouTube channel. You can see that my praise of Yaala Ballin is based on her deep musical knowledge, enthusiasm, and empathy.
Here are two of the seven performances:
AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (with the rare and moving verse):
and the witty and touching NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:
Convinced? I thought you would be. Yaala has a number of New York City gigs, but the one I have circled on my calendar is this: she and Michael Kanan will be performing in duet at Smalls (183 West 10th Street) on May 12, 2013, at 7:30. I’ll be there!
May your happiness increase.