LIZZ WRIGHT: Freedom & Surrender (Concord)

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There was a time, not so long ago, when Lizz Wright was being touted as “jazz’s next big thing” (in the vocal department at any rate). But in the five long years since her last release (the Verve LP, ‘Fellowship’), a certain Gregory Porter has arrived and conquered all before him with his irresistible soulful take on the art of jazz vocal. Now Ms Wright, it seems, is ready to fight back as she re-launches herself with this new album on, for her, a new label.

The label PR people say ‘Freedom & Surrender’ is Lizz’s “sexiest, most sensual album yet”. I’d agree but add “her most soulful” – no coincidence that it mines the same soul/jazz musical vein excavated so wonderfully by the aforementioned Mr Porter. And no coincidence that Concord have drafted in big G to help raise the album’s profile. The “cat in the hat” duets with Lizz on a wonderful sensual ballad, ‘Right Where You Are’. The voices blend beautifully and the effect is mesmerising. Watch ‘Right Where You Are’ become one of this autumn’s big tunes…. proper, grown up soul music.

And there’s plenty more of the same amongst the 13 tracks. ‘The Game’, for instance, has its roots in Southern soul with some fine churchy organ while a reading of the Bee Gees ‘To Love Somebody’ keeps the same store-front, down home churchy textures. Speaking of which a couple of other cuts (‘The New Game’ and ‘You’) remind me of the Staple Singers. They’re not gospel tunes but Ms Wright’s delivery is sanctified while both tracks have a chunky, riffing guitar sound that has to be based on Pops Staples.

Whilst we’re talking comparisons, elsewhere some of the music reminds me of the tapestries woven by Joni Mitchell. The cover of Nick Drake’s ‘River Man’, ‘Somewhere Down The Mystic’ and ‘Real Life Painting’ have the same ethereal complexities of much of Ms Mitchell’s work… hardly surprising seeing that this album’s producer, Larry Klein, has worked extensively with Joni Mitchell.

The album’s other key cut is the most complex. ‘Here And Now’ is gentle and as intriguing as the writing of Maya Angelou to whom the song is an homage. Very different in feel is the LP’s loose and funky opener, ‘Freedom’. I think, though, that Ms Angelou would have approved of the song’s sentiment. I’m sure, in fact, that Maya would approve the whole album.

(BB) 4/5