Review: ‘Lizz Wright’

The comparisons to legendary jazz singers preceded Lizz Wright's arrival on record, and while her debut "Salt" is a stylistic amalgam like Norah Jones' debut, she hasn't been able to slide out of the genre's confines. Backed by just a trio at the Cinegrill, the singer exposed a side that pops up only once in a while on the disc: gospel.

The comparisons to legendary jazz singers preceded Lizz Wright’s arrival on record, and while her debut “Salt” is a stylistic amalgam like Norah Jones’ debut, she hasn’t been able to slide out of the genre’s confines. Backed by just a trio at the Cinegrill, which certainly trimmed some of the pop stylings on “Salt” (Verve), the singer exposed a side that pops up only once in a while on the disc: gospel.

Church roots sprang up on about half of the 10 songs Wright sang in her opening-night perf, one that touched on all her specialties — Broadway ballads, funk and the ubiquitous “Nature Boy.” Wright, a 23-year-old Atlanta native, displays a maturity in her songwriting — a rarity on any jazz musician’s debut — and her command of her own lyrics suggest an artistic depth usually brought about only by age.

Wright’s songs have the weight of a different era. She’ll sing with the earnestness of a mid-’50s balladeer and then slide into a steady soul groove that’s got 1969 written all over it. It’s not so much that she’s a chameleon, just a performer who sees a genre’s borders and looks for a new way out. Pianist Jon Cowherd, one of her album’s producers, guided the ample backing that made stellar use of Doug Weiss’ lyrical bass.

Lizz Wright

Cinegrill; 200 seats; $35

Production

Presented inhouse.

Cast

Band: Lizz Wright, Jon Cowherd, Doug Weiss, EJ Strickland. Opened and reviewed Oct. 6, 2003; closes Oct. 11.
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