A few years after the release of her fourth album with Verve, a gospel-themed set of reinterpretations titled Fellowship, Lizz Wright signed to the Concord label with an eye toward concentrating on original material. The vocalist made a connection with veteran multi-instrumentalist and producer Larry Klein and recorded Freedom & Surrender with a stable backing band that included drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, percussionist Pete Korpela, bassist Dan Lutz, guitarist Dean Parks, and keyboardists Pete Kuzma and Billy Childs. For most listeners, the change of label and mostly new set of supporting musicians will seem transparent.
Georgia-born singer Lizz Wright’s last few projects have seen her trying out interesting musical costumes. The Orchard (2008) was a folk-jazz session featuring Calexico, while Fellowship (2010) explored pulpit-hot southern gospel. Her fifth LP sees her back in that safe zone between smooth jazz and quiet-storm soul, with signings including Norah Jones sidekick Jesse Harris and country-rock kingpin JD Souther.
The luxurious dimensions of Lizz Wright’s voice — a smooth, dark alto possessed of qualities you might associate with barrel-aged bourbon or butter-soft leather — have typically come with a counterweight of righteous uplift. Her first four albums, informed by gospel-folk, chamber-jazz and Southern soul, framed her singing plainly, with muted drums and twangy acoustic guitars. Her poise, it seemed, came with a higher purpose.
Lizz Wright appears to do everything right. A follow up to her stellar gospel recording, Fellowship, her new album, Freedom & Surrender was five years in the making and promised to be worth every moment it took to conceive. It finds her poised on the brink of wider recognition, if for no other reason than her commitment to pure, authentic soul, a commodity that’s in short supply these days.