Lizz Wright has traveled far and wide since the release of her debut album, Salt, over a dozen years ago. She traveled to the Music City this past Monday night, sharing an intimate memorable performance at the City Winery. A vocalist of deep composure and luxurious timbre, she draws equally from jazz, R&B, Southern folk, country blues and the singer-songwriter movement to which she belongs. However, her foundation lies in rural Georgia and the gospel church. Wright was born in the small town of Hahira. One of three children and the daughter of a minister and musical director of their church, she started singing gospel music and playing piano in church as a child, where she became interested in jazz and blues. As a teen, Lizz was heavily involved in choral singing, receiving the National Choral Award. She went on to Georgia State University in Atlanta to study singing. Since then, she has studied at The New School in New York and in Vancouver, BC.
Wright joined the Atlanta-based vocal quartet In the Spirit in 2000, and in 2002 she signed a recording contract with Verve Records, where her musical compositions and vocal style led her to be compared to that of Norah Jones. Her first album reached number two on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz chart in 2004. Her next release maintained the jazz and pop blend, while incorporating folk music to her musical blend. Dreaming Wide Awake was released in the summer of 2005 and reached number one on the Top Contemporary Jazz chart in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, Wright released The Orchard to positive reviews. She released her fourth album in 2010. Most songs on that album, entitled Fellowship are gospel standards.
The jazz world crowned Lizz Wright a bright new talent after her impressive debut. Still, she craved a different, more representative sound. Sure, the CD boasted top-tier jazz accompaniment from her peers, and there was pliancy in her voice that suggests jazz; however, she didn’t concern herself with twisting it into vocalese contortions like most aspiring jazz singers; and as a songwriter, she didn’t seem terribly interested in penning loose improvisational vehicles. With Dreaming Wide Awake, the rhythms shuffled and sauntered more than swang, and the songs emphasized succinct pop melodicism and late-night neo soul.
Ms. Wright has co-written a handful of noteworthy originals. Impressive hits, such as the slow blues “Hit the Ground,” which demonstrated her new level of maturity. The leaps of faith certainly payed off, as Wright now sounds more connected to her material. She delivers a stronger effort by showing emotional vulnerability and exploring complicated romantic themes. Wright’s makeovers of songs like “Stop” and “I’m Confessin'” reveal a sultriness absent from Salt.
The soul singer has started over. Her newest album, Freedom & Surrender, which was released late last year from Concord Music Group, comes after a few tough years of personal situations. She took a five year hiatus. Yet, she managed to find a creative spark, along with a new kind of voice. This is her fifth overall album. “Life happened, which is a good thing. So, I have something to talk about, a need to make a record,” Wright has been quoted as saying. “The key to great songwriting is knowing just how much personal experiences to share.” Wright wrote 10 of the 15 songs comprising Freedom & Surrender. The mellow audience was definitely pleased with her exquisite display of voice and array of musicians.