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Lizz Wright has an immediately arresting voice. She sounds equally at home whether reaching for high, airy notes or dropping down for the deepest, earthiest tones. Dreaming Wide Awake finds her taking on an eclectic assortment of songs, including a number of impressive originals. With its stripped down soul/jazz/pop arrangements, the album cannot escape comparisons to Norah Jones' work, but it also recalls Solomon Burke's great statement of purpose, Don't Give Up On Me. Like the Burke album, Dreaming Wide Awake offers the thrill of hearing a great, confident voice exercised over a wide range of material.
The disc kicks off with an imaginative, deep blues reinterpretation of the schmaltzy classic "A Taste Of Honey that seems to have altered the very DNA of the song. Wright also turns in an effective performance of Neil Young's "Old Man with backing vocals by Marc Anthony Thompson (aka Chocolate Genius). She seems so in sympathy with the song that the prospect of her covering other Young compositions becomes, if not obvious, than certainly intriguing. I can imagine her tackling "Only Love Can Break Your Heart or "Birds, and they would fit just fine.
Another standout is "Hit The Ground, composed by Wright with Jesse Harris and Toshi Reagan. The stirring soul ballad sounds inevitable in exactly the right way. The backing vocals are angelic and perfect. It is absolutely a track to build on.
Dreaming Wide Awake is an exciting album from a fresh talent. This is a publication devoted to jazz, and so it should be noted that the album is jazzy rather than being jazz per se. However, that caveat should not discourage anyone looking for music of impeccable taste and deep feeling. Wright is an artist worth watching.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.