Lizz Wright’s debut release, "Salt," is one of the year’s big surprises.
The 23-year-old, Georgia native skillfully integrates jazz with a dose of rhythm and blues and a dab of gospel. The result is a fresh, soulful affair.
Wright emerged in 2002 at a Billie Holiday tribute in Chicago, where she performed renditions of "I Cover the Waterfront" and "Don’t Explain." The early promise she showed then blossoms with "Salt."
The CD is made up of a dozen tracks, including five original ballads by Wright. "Salt" also features the Chick Corea-Neville Potter tune "Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly" and a glorious version of Charlie Smalls’ "Soon As I Get Home" from "The Wiz."
A minister’s daughter, Wright’s gospel influences bring a warmth and resonance to the songs, especially Brian Blade’s "Lead the Way."
Wright has a low, full-bodied voice reminiscent of Roberta Flack and Cassandra Wilson. Behind those vocal chops, there is a quiet confidence that belies her tender age. She honed her talents with the Atlanta group In the Spirit.
Many of the songs on "Salt" have the same gentle tempo. It’s a small criticism because Wright manages to use her low-key, earthiness to get the most out of every song, creating a very satisfying recording.
There are some big guns behind this debut. "Salt" has a trio of producers - Verve Chairman Tommy LiPuma, who has worked extensively with Diana Krall, and musicians Blade and Jon Cowherd. Both Blade and Cowherd play on the album as does Danilo Perez.
"Salt" is on the Verve label, which has been home to some of jazz’s greatest female vocalists. It is too early to tell how far Wright will go, but she’s off to a strong start.