Jukebox: Wright bringing jazz, gospel sounds to Troy

Will perform Saturday at Music Hall
Lizz Wright
Lizz Wright

“It’s the first time I’ve been able to pull together the studio experience and the road experience,” said jazz singer Lizz Wright of the tour that brings her to Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St.) on Saturday.

She’ll mainly sing songs from “Grace,” her sixth album; shaped with producer Joe Henry, co-starring Chicagoans Chris Bruce (guitar) and Jay Bellerose (drums), and reflecting both her Southern heritage and focus on the now.

Wright spoke by phone from Chicago, home for two and a half years, where she was drawn by the energy of the Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy. Like George Duke, Dianne Reeves, Gregory Porter and many others, Wright played benefits for the southside alternative school. “I joined the board [with Nona Hendryx and Terri Lyne Carrington], became secretary of the board, and then I opened the café [Carver 47] and had to move here.”

Café customers stare as Wright makes biscuits and juice: “I look familiar to them and I can see them thinking, ‘Who IS that girl?’ ”

No such confusion here: Wright has played stellar shows at The Egg and SPAC’s jazz festival. Wright left rural Georgia, where she taught Sunday school, played piano, sang and preached a few sermons in her father’s storefront church, winning college scholarships to see jazz and study voice in Atlanta. “I was drawn to that communal music that was very sophisticated, but it also seemed sacred,” she said. “You could sing about anything, but it felt dignified, like music in church.” Aretha’s “Amazing Grace” album “was the most listened-to music growing up,” she said: She wept in the car on realizing friends in New York were taking her to see the only-recently-released film on the late soul diva.

Wright distilled her own “Grace” album from a list of 70 songs producer Joe Henry sent her in response to Wright’s letter. “I drew out a web of everything I thought I might cover, of things orbiting my world,” she said, “ … trying to think where I stand in the whole social political conversation.”

“In such dark times, we are all as musicians called to answer brutality with wild and inclusive beauty,” Henry wrote recently, hailing Wright for “the expression of her humanity” and welcoming his opportunity to serve as “Lizz’s scout along the journey of ‘Grace.’ ” He added, “What a gift she offers all.”

“We have a wonderful rapport together and we meant [the album] to be clear and defiant in a spirit of affection and trust,” said Wright of working with Henry, a friend for more than a decade and a writer she admires. “I’d be telling my story in the [studio], in deep places of comfort and trust because we love each other,” said Wright. “It went really fast. I’d sing a groove and play a body rhythm,” said Wright. “I’d tap my chest and tap my foot and everybody else would fall in.” She said, “We were doing songs from beginning to end, from arranging them to getting a final take … in two- or three-hour windows.”

While “Barley” and Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand” proclaim a brave, principled defiance, and “Singing In My Soul” and “What Would I Do Without You” take you to a happy church, Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” soothes in languid bourbon ease. Three songs feature choirs Wright’s longtime keyboardist Kenny Banks recruited from Georgia churches to provide what Wright called “an old Gospel approach.” She loved singing in the alto section. “To be inside a wall of voices again was overwhelming.”

For all the declamatory fire of upbeat numbers on “Grace,” Wright sounds quietly compelling in “Stars Fell on Alabama” and k.d. lang’s “Wash Me Clean.”

Explaining this lower-key approach, Wright cited Shirley Horn, Nancy Wilson and Abbey Lincoln. “The mastery of Shirley Horn; she leaves spaces where it’s open, and she makes you wait and it magnifies it,” Wright said. “You wait, so it has gravity; you really wait on her.” Wright admires how Wilson used her tremendous facility “to sound like a woman, on that heartbreaking edge,” but with theatrical grace. She praised Lincoln as “very enchanting, full of the spirit of the church at the start of the service, that call-and-response that guides us all into that energy.”

Wright finds “the same patience and gentle command as the mothers of the church in the jazz singers I’ve studied.” She said from both her church and jazz mothers she learned, “I really have to trust the song, because I’m at its service.”

Alongside Wright at the Hall on Saturday in service to her songs will be Banks, keyboards; Ben Zwerin, bass; Michael Jerome, drums (he drove Richard Thompson’s Electric Trio at The Egg recently); and Chris Bruce, guitar. Wright herself plays more piano onstage these days than previously; she studies online with Banks.

A bit nervous knowing high school friends will be in the Hall to hear her, Wright resolved, “I have to get out there and be the bird I am.” 8 p.m. $34.50. 518-273-0038 www.troymusichall.org

In Jazz is Phish at Proctors’ GE Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady) tonight, jazz cats jam on Phish songs. While Phish draws multitudes to giant shows (SPAC July 2 and 3!), JIP focuses on the improvising smarts of multitudes of players from jam, fusion, funk, jazz and classical communities.

Their album “He Never Spoke A Word” features saxophonists Jeff Coffin (Flecktones) and Chris Bullock (Snarky Puppy), bassists Anthony Wellington (Victor Wooten Band) and Chris DeAngelus (Kung Fu), keyboardists Kofi Burbridge (Tedeschi Trucks Band) and Holly Bowling (solo piano improvisations on jam-band classics at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady and Cohoes Music Hall), guitarist Grant Green Jr. (Masters of Groove) and brass players from Phish’s own horn section, the Sun Ra Solar Arkestra and John Brown’s Body, all spinning around leaders Michael Chase (guitar) and Adam Chase (drums).

Jazz is Phish’s live-show roster lists 28 ace improvisors. 7:30 p.m. $30. 518-346-6204 www.proctors.org. Paid by the note, they’d earn millions!

So would new hybrid band moePods Saturday at Cohoes Music Hall (58 Remsen St.). It’s Al Schnier (guitar) and Vinnie Amico (drums) of hyperprolific (24 albums!), once-local heroes moe., plus Max Verna (guitar), Tom Pirozzi (bass), Brian Mangini (keys) and Ted Marotta (drums) of Ominous Seapods, who played a dynamite reunion show last year in the Hall. 8 p.m. $27. 518-953-0630 www.thecohoesmusichall.org

Also in Cohoes, singer-songwriter Dar Williams sings tonight at Cohoes Music Hall. The New Yorker hails Williams as “one of America’s very best singer-songwriters.” She recorded “Emerald,” her 10th album, with Richard Thompson, Jill Sobule, Jim Lauderdale, the Milk Carton Kids, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Suzzy Roche, the Hooters and more, and has written four books. Williams is in good company: Local hero Girl Blue opens. 8 p.m. $35, $40, $45

Old Songs (37 S. Main St., Voorheesville) revs up for its its 39th late-June festival with a sampler show/fundraiser Saturday featuring area acoustic stars Dan Berggren, Kate Blain, Short of Breath, Debra Burger & Carol Fults, Joy Adler’s Summer Camp Band and Ron Gordon’s Guitar Crew. The fundraiser also includes a raffle of craft items, and sale of baked goods and recordings. 7:30 p.m. $25 adults, $12 for ages 13-18, $5 for children under 12. 518-765-2815 www.oldsongs.org

Seconds of Pleasure honors big-fun 1970s/’80s pub band Rockpile (Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Terry Williams and Billy Bremner) Friday at the Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany). Hudson Valley rockers John Neidhart, Steve Jagoda, Evan Schwartz and Jerry Kitrow formed SOP as a one-off to play Rockpile’s hugely influential only album. (Others appeared as Edmunds or Lowe solo albums.) SOP and the crowd had so much fun it’s now an annual favorite. 9 p.m. $7. 518-465-4372 www.thelowbeat.com

Soulful Americana duo Nicole & Dwight recently added drummer Ezra Oklan; he’s with their bass and guitar blend in tonight’s show. 7 p.m. $16 advance, $18 door, $9 students and children. 518-583-0022www.caffelena.org

John Gorka’s show Friday is sold out.

Bluegrass giants Frank Solivan (mandolin) & Dirty Kitchen (Mike Mumford, banjo; Chris Luquette, guitar; Jeremy Middleton, bass) play two shows Saturday, 4 and 8 p.m. $25, $28, $14

Sunday, Garland Nelson leads “A Joyful Noise! Gospel Brunch” with southern fare from Hattie’s. 1 p.m. $33 advance, $35 door

Later Sunday, the Hot Club of Saratoga swing-jazzes up the Caffe with guest guitarist Ken Allday. Two sets, then a gypsy jazz jam. 7 p.m. $20, $22, $11

Categories: Entertainment

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