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Gospel, Jazz Review Print

Lizz Wright Invokes the Spirit of North Carolina and the South

Event  Information

Durham -- ( Sat., Oct. 27, 2018 )

Duke Performances: Lizz Wright
Performed by Lizz Wright
$55 - $35 -- Carolina Theatre of Durham , 919-560-3030 , http://www.carolinatheatre.org -- 8:00 PM

October 27, 2018 - Durham, NC:

Lizz Wright's musical style transcends genre – her powerful yet nuanced voice is so captivating that labeling it in one category would be outrageous. Of course, her wide discography speaks for itself, including her latest record, Grace. It was quite a privilege to have Wright perform for just one night at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, where a very enthusiastic crowd celebrated their fellow NC resident. (Wright has recently moved to Black Mountain.) Indeed, Grace, released in 2017, takes much inspiration from nature and life in the South. Since Wright performed several songs from this album, atmospheric grooves and sincere storytelling became themes of the concert, overall.

Wright began her performance with a meditative, goose bump-inducing a cappella verse of her song "Silence." Especially for audience members who may have never heard her before, this was an indescribably powerful introduction to Wright's mesmerizing vocal texture and musical expression. The rest of her band soon entered: longtime collaborator Kenny Banks Sr., who played both organ and piano (usually at the same time), Chris Bruce, acoustic and electric guitars, Ben Zwerin, bass, and Ivan Edwards, drums. In the style of a jazz concert, members of the band saw the spotlight often for fabulous solos. The five musicians worked together with remarkable style, each bringing a slightly different expression to the ensemble.

"Barley," an insistent and subtly forceful folk-style anthem, featured strong bass and shimmery guitar to support Wright's luxuriant phrases. "Walk with Me, Lord" was powerful in an entirely different way, with its gospel phrases and Banks' insane jazz organ solo that had audience members dancing at their seats. Who would expect Wright to cover Neil Young next? It turns out that "Old Man" (recorded on the 2005 CD Dreaming Wide Awake) fits perfectly with her voice, which blossoms effectively in the chorus. In fact, unlike her studio recording, this particular performance spiraled and spun into a fiery jam session. This was definitely a highlight of the continuous 90-minute set.

With Wright's covers of songs like "Old Man" or k.d. lang's "Wash Me Clean," her voice sounds intimately familiar but still new. A real showstopper in this concert was her performance of "Seems I'm Never Tired Lovin' You," an unforgettable cover of the Nina Simone tune, with vocal runs and delicate moments. This led right into the sultry, swaying "Surrender," which turned out to be the last of the set until the audience's lengthy applause yielded not one but two encore songs. The concert closed with the uproarious "Singing in My Soul," which had the entire audience on their feet with joy.

For additional Duke Performances events at the Carolina Theatre and elsewhere, see our calendar.