Lizz Wright | Freedom and Surrender
Concord Music Group
by Peggy Oliver
When it all comes down to experiencing life, no matter what occupation we choose, seasons of transitions are almost inevitable. Musicians are especially subject to seasonal phases in their artistry, whether it’s industry business or personal revelations. In the case of Lizz Wright, they are prepared to enter their next seasonal phase without a major interruption. Since she hit the music ground running with Joe Sample on his Verve release, The Pecan Tree in 2002, Wright’s earthy alto has elevated contemporary jazz’s landscape. Her first four CD’s waxed for Verve, including her debut Salt and Dreaming Wide Awake, bridges many musical flavors, though her gospel roots are the vocal backbone. What her biggest musical asset entails is a calm spirit and a steady confidence in how she communicates. However, even with that solid musical catalog and those vocal skills, Wright took a hiatus to re-examine personal needs. Five years removed from the last solo release, Fellowship (2010), Wright picks up where she left off with songs about life and love for Freedom and Surrender, her latest release and first for Concord Records.
To this day, Wright is never stuck in one artistic box and Freedom and Surrender remains firm with her musical agenda. Longtime supporting associates Toshi Reagon and David Batteau and producer Larry Klein’s choice of musicians once again compliment Wright in whatever the arrangement may dictate. The result serves up a full plate of gospel, blues, folk, R&B, soul, pop and jazz.
“Freedom” rings in Freedom and Surrender with bursts of funk and Wright’s message of standing up for another: “We lost our water from hurting me/But I can cry you a river of struggling me/Call again and I’ll answer.” Another ‘freedom’ song, “The New Game,” possesses a catchy bluesy pop edge a la Tom Petty and an engaging gospel-like chorus. “Lean In” unabashedly yearns for a committed relationship: “Come on/Let’s stop playing mouse and cat/Come on/Don’t turn back,” on this ‘dance’ track with an old school R&B aftertaste. Though the sensuous “You” soaks in some juicy jazz syncopation, the song gets somewhat bogged down in the background vocal arrangement. “Here and Now,” in memory of the legendary poet Maya Angelou revolves around haunting echoing backing voices on the chorus decorated with electric piano and another longtime Wright collaborator, Jesse Harris on wah-wah pedal guitar. On the other hand, “Real Life Painting” does not provide as inviting a soundtrack or lyrical meat compared to some other moments on Freedom and Surrender.
There is an understated yet spot-on emotional connection between Wright and Gregory Porter for “Right Where You Are,” as their vocal textures run rich and deep on this ethereal waltz-like ballad, co-written with J.D. Souther and producer Klein. “Somewhere Down the Mystic,” an engaging folk piece, sparkles with an acoustic guitar foundation interjected with bridges of electric guitar outbursts and an atmospheric orchestration, all cradled by Wright’s gorgeous vocal spacing.
Freedom and Surrender makes sure to spotlight Wright’s keen sense of handling covers. “River Man,” the Nick Drake composition, is a modern jazz masterpiece in the capable hands of Wright, accented by punctuated brush work from drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and Till Bronner’s cool trumpet solo. The Bee Gee’s pop smash hit, “To Love Somebody,” is more than turned upside down, as this gospel blues stew marinates slowly but surely.
Once again, Wright drops another gem in Freedom and Surrender. Just the other body of work, her vocal ease in pretty much whatever she sings defies any musical break she decides to take. Four and a half stars out of five.
The Urban Music Scene