By Aaron Cohen | Published April 2021
The straightforward title of Yaala Ballin’s tribute to one of America’s greatest composers is unadorned, and that directness reflects her approach to Irving Berlin’s songbook. Having toured with groups ranging from orchestras to duos, she illuminates each lyric’s meaning through bright inflections and steers clear of excess.
Ballin’s personality comes across on “It’s A Lovely Day,” and a spirited tone reflects her rhythmic control. She knows she does not need to rush the tempo. Similarly, Ballin leans into the chorus of “Cheek To Cheek,” while too many vocalists overdo it. Her sharp pauses lend surprising accents to “This Year’s Kisses” as she evocatively lingers to conclude the lines on “They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful.” Ballin’s confidence, in part, comes from the group—sans drummer—that collaborates with her. Bassist Ari Roland has worked with the vocalist in duo settings, and his vibrant solo leading into “Blue Skies” highlights their empathy; pianist Michael Kanan skillfully creates open space for her to fill. While this is a warm appreciation of 13 Berlin classics, it’d be interesting to hear Ballin bring her expertise to underperformed tunes in his repertoire. Many of those pieces are as worthy as what’s here. A follow-up is in order.
Sings Irving Berlin: It’s A Lovely Day; They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful; Be Careful, It’s My Heart; Blue Skies; How Many Times?; This Year’s Kisses; Remember; How Deep Is The Ocean; Say It Isn’t So; Fools Fall In Love; Change Partners; All Alone; Cheek To Cheek. (46:34)
Personnel: Yaala Ballin, vocals; Michael Kanan, piano; Chris Flory, guitar; Ari Roland, bass.