Lizz Wright Blends Jazz, Soul In Mesmerizing Yoshi's Show

Photo: Myself when I am real. Performing at Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland last Saturday, Georgia native Lizz Wright projected a potent combination of blues and gospel music.
Associated Press/Courtesy
Myself when I am real. Performing at Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland last Saturday, Georgia native Lizz Wright projected a potent combination of blues and gospel music.

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It wouldn't be an overstatement to describe Lizz Wright, who performed at Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland last Saturday, as an inspiring and magnetic talent. She praises and implores the Lord with just as much vehemence as Aretha Franklin and stands in a direct line of descent from Gladys Knight, Nina Simone and Tracy Chapman. Through her warm and soothing voice, she seems to get her grit through the commemoration of African-American spiritual musicality. And Lord knows, she does it better than well.

A mishmash of blues, traditional jazz and vintage R&B, Wright's performance was a series of retrospections that shed light on her musical roots. Daughter of a Georgia pastor, she was raised to sing in the name of spirituality and was encouraged to absorb the heartfelt propensities of classic gospel hymns at a very early age.

In the club, the lights slowly softened and left the audience in what seemed to be an unbearable lull. The musicians delivered a velvety beat, which, accompanied by the crowd's cheers, ultimately felt like a drum roll. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back Lizz Wright." The clamor eventually subsided, and there she was, rising from the shadowy backstage. She unhurriedly walked through the stage and humbly veiled her svelte elegance behind the microphone to finally commence her transcendent incantations.

The night sparked no surprise, which, in this case, is a good thing. As expected, it gave rise to pure musical delectation. Both Wright and her audience conspired to make my heart feel bare and my eyes weepy. The room was filled, to its fullest, with a crowd whose rhythmic claps and melodious hums revealed a striking bliss and a diffused sense of musicality. With her hands reaching for the sky and her bare feet conquering the stage, she rose to flawless crescendos that often surpassed her own recordings. And with a smile as steady as her voice, Ms. Wright married her classically trained pipes and her lyrical depths to pure gospel folklore. The audience cooperated to her candid sermons toward a musical haven. And Lord knows, even they did it better than well.

As she introduced the familiar tune, "Hit the Ground," the vocalist confessed, "I love playing for you all because you take it personal." Song after song, cheer after cheer, the cohesion between the star and her groupies (who might as well be buddies) became obvious. Yoshi's gave sanctuary to a soulful family, where brothers and sisters hurrahed to her "Walk With Me (Lord)," "(I've Got to Use My) Imagination," and "When I Fall." Complemented by an exceptional quartet worthy of a Harlem reputation, Wright didn't need much more than her voice to match the spark of an entire choir. Mixing a cappella and electric tunes, she barely needed a microphone to permeate the club with her deep and occasionally raspy timbre. And as she covered Neil Young's "Old Man," she bore her soul by magnifying the song's original plaintive overtones. The minimal instrumentation along with her steady contralto and subtle vibrato gave "Old Man" a nonpareil profundity, which was unanimously revered by the flock.

Playing in the core of industrial Oakland, Lizz Wright chose a more-than-appropriate venue to revive old blues traditions with amazing grace and undeniable talent. Anyone expecting to shiver before her sacred generosity couldn't have left disillusioned. She gave everything she had in her. And as one of her brothers said, "It was beautiful." Even the Lord knows it. To Ms. Lizz Wright, Alleluia!

Holler an "Alleluia!" at Charlene at [email protected]

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