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Lizz Wright’s first-ever live album launches the jazz and gospel vocalist’s indie label, Blues & Greens Records. After nearly 20 years and six albums on Verve and Concord, she’s designed an artist-friendly business model for herself and emerging artists she plans to develop. The alternately explosive and intimate Holding Space, the label’s debut release of a 2018 Wright concert at the Columbia Theatre in Berlin, is the first master she owns.
All that is wonderful and empowering, but tangential to the sheer enjoyment of hearing the charismatic artist at the height of her performance powers. Throughout this 11-track, 66-minute concert recording, she revisits original tunes and reimagined rock and pop classics — a dramatic rendering of Neil Young’s “Old Man,” a sensual slow burn through Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” — that have made her a chart-topping contemporary jazz artist.
While just a few songs directly reference the divine — “Walk With Me Lord” is a straight-up gospel tune — the whole affair rolls like a stunning Black church revival. However, instead of the jumping, shouting and handclapping, Wright uses her intimate tones to make listeners think about their lives and their place in the universe.
As in any gospel-tinged performance, Wright’s supple, grooving band creates the rich emotional undertones that drive the spiritual journey. A few wild solos punctuate the proceedings, most notably Chris Bruce’s distorted, blistering guitar popping over drummer Ivan Edwards’ tribal boom. Meanwhile, Bobby Ray Sparks II’s electrifying organ jamming on “Walk With Me Lord” emphatically reminds listeners that the journey of life is full of bumps but also the occasional patches of smooth sailing. — Jonathan Widran