Avery Fisher Hall, June 28, 2003:
NewportJazz-NYC.com has been an affiliated website of The Newport Jazz Festival in New York (JVC sponsored) for several years. But now in 2003, I have received my first press pass (assigned seat) to a JVC Jazz Festival event here in New York City. Festival Productions, which runs these events worldwide, has permitted me to review The Crusaders at Avery Fisher Hall on June 28th. I want to thank Ann, Charlie, Sarah and Susan for making this all possible. My wife Kathy and I picked up the two tickets at their temporary festival office, in the Manhattan Sheraton, before the Havana-NY Jam at Carnegie Hall on June 21st. We met Sarah and Susan in person and they were very professional, accommodating and encouraging. Since Kathy was unavailable to see The Crusaders, my sister Jessica came in her place.
Jessica and I drive into Manhattan on Saturday evening. The traffic on the George Washington Bridge is horrendous, but we manage to get to Avery Fisher Hall an hour early. We enjoy a beverage before the show, out on the upstairs balcony, while watching a big band perform and dancers enjoying themselves on this gorgeous summer evening.
The opening act for tonight’s show at Avery Fisher Hall is Lizz Wright. Lizz is statuesque and strong, confident and assured. She has a silky smooth delivery and her vocals are rich and balanced. She wears a pink silk blouse and a long black skirt to add to the aura of a more serious and mature presentation. Her opening number is, “Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly.” Her strong vocal delivery is complemented by carefully appointed trills. A trio of musicians accompanies her: piano, standup bass and drums. The tempo is subdued and the drummer utilizes the reverse stick on the snare for that succinct and delicate percussive attack. The piano solo is a carefully conceived melodic development. The feel is spirited and joyful and the musicians immediately form a nice musical blend.
The second musical entry from Lizz Wright is, “Soon As I Get Home, Lord.” The a cappella intro is slow and deliberate and demonstrates a substantial vocal range to articulate her creative capabilities . The drummer, EJ Strickland, uses brushes for a nice quiet emphasis with the piano and bass. The piano provides excellent accompaniment, shadowing the vocal melody in and answer/response form, providing an appropriately serene ensemble touch. The next song, “Nature Boy,” has an upbeat jazz tempo utilizing the reverse stick and the crown of the ride cymbal to accentuate the succinct but delicate percussive technique. The vocals are strong and confident with dynamic control combining strong high notes with rich long sustained phrases and just the right amount of vibrato to add eloquence and poise. The piano solo, Aaron Parks, develops the melody very creatively with brief dissonant passing tones for colorful contrast. The bass solo, Doug Weiss, is vigorously imaginative while remaining relatively consonant in his melodic and rhythmic attack.
The next composition, “Afro Blues,” is an arrangement by Brian Blade, a producer of her debut recording. Lizz delivers a sensuous and passionate vocal over a ¾ time signature. The trio accompaniment demonstrates great feel and balance. The arrangement goes to a 5/4 meter for a musically provocative piano solo. The arrangement returns to ¾ time to showcase the band’s musical prowess and ability. The next song is, “Eternity.” The tempo is anticipatory with the piano and drummer’s brushes rolling the melody along nicely in 6/8 time. Lizz has a puissant vocal delivery, which is enticingly hypnotic in combination with the trio’s delicate feel.
Song six, “Burning Light,” is a slow ballad. Lizz Wright’s vocal is classy, powerful and controlled. There is well-balanced piano accompaniment and the drummer uses ‘pro sticks’ for softer percussive notes and a double time routine for contrast. The piano solo embellishes the melody while creatively combining flourishes and well times rests for dynamic phrasing. My sister comments, “she’s got a beautiful voice.” The next composition, “Silence,” is all a cappella. Lizz’s voice is gracious and grateful while mesmerizing the audience with its reverence and respect. The last song is, “Salt.” This slow vocal ballad is spirited and soulful with impassioned strength and confidence. The lyric and vocal delivery conveys a spiritual link to the past. Jessica comments, “her voice is like bedtime slipper, very comfy.”
Lizz Wright’s singing wraps you in warmth and surrounds you in a fine musical glow. She is confident, self-assured and embodies the presence of experience, sophistication and charm. Her singing is eloquently superior and sultry. The musicians she surrounds herself with, fully complement her strong vocal delivery and complete a soothing musical painting she is creating with her imaginative palette of sonant colors.
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