Sound track: “Freedom and Surrender” by Lizz Wright

Lizz Wright Photo by Jesse Kitt

Although Asheville-based vocalist and composer Lizz Wright rarely plays local shows under her own billing, she has collaborated with Free Planet Radio and performed at LEAF. In a strange twist, the rest of the world knows Wright better than much of her local community — she’s topped the Billboard contemporary jazz chart, contributed to projects of Jakob Dylan, David Sanborn, Amos Lee and Meshell Ndegeocello, among others. She’s been covered by NPR, New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Her current tour takes her across the U.S. and Western Europe.

Wright absolutely deserves local star status. Her new album and fifth offering, Freedom and Surrender, builds on the musician’s foundation in jazz and gospel. But from the funk-infused and syncopated opening of “Freedom,” it’s apparent that Wright is using her full sonic tool box. That lead track feels like a contemporary answer to the ’60s-era rallying cry for peace. “We lost our water from hurt and greed, but I can cry you a river of struggle and need. Call again and I’ll answer,” she sings, her voice rich and smooth. “Who’s’ gonna stand up with you? I will.”

Although the album moves through various musical genres — the sultry lilt of “The Game,” the breathless slow dance of “Right Where You Are,” the aching, gospel-infused cover of The Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”; “You,” which whips and strikes, snake-like, as cool as it is sultry — every song is ultimately about Wright’s voice. As well-matched and impeccable as the musicianship is on each track, the vocalist could just as well sing a cappella. Her vocal is so full of emotion, expression and honest reaction to the song that it’s less like she’s singing and more like she’s embodying the music.

“Lean In,” crisp, breezy and built on a deep groove, juxtaposes snapping percussion and R&B baselines with Wright’s wistful and velvety voice. The nocturne throbs with longing while still exuding style and polish. A cover of Nick Drake’s “River Man” is similarly dark, its beat a languid sway, but the sexiness is replaced with a charged and dreamy sense of mystery.

“Somewhere Down the Mystic,” another standout track, shows Wright’s comfort in blues and world-music realms. While the song is neither, exactly, it uses those textured to tell a story and sets a mood. The music, layered and orchestral with huge, percussive breaks, is a kind of stage on which Wright’s voice performs an eloquent modern dance. Her lower register is resonate and every bit as emotive as her higher notes.

The album’s 13 tracks, as the title suggests, are bookended by Freedom in the beginning and Surrender at the end. That final offering is just as important, just as unhurried and carefully constructed, as the first song. “How much can you stand, knowing all you know and still waiting to take the hand that’s been holding you for so long,” Wright sings. It’s a gorgeously fervent song, and nods to the wrenching soul of Otis Redding and his contemporaries. But unlike Redding, Wright’s voice never breaks. There’s no anguish, no tearing at clothes or falling to knees. Instead, she only seems to rise and gain strength and cast a kind of glowing light through the song’s organ runs and snare hits.

Wright creates profound music and then holds space within it, equal parts a performer of the songs and an usher of their vivacity.

Just listening to Freedom and Surrender is a transformative experience. Here’s hoping Lizz Wright brings the live performance to a local stage sooner rather than later.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.