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Lizz Wright at Yoshi's Oakland

Lizz Wright at Yoshi's Oakland

Courtesy Walter Atkins

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The Lizz Wright Duo was like a cool tonic for music aficionados, who've been parched by the last two years of dry pandemic protocols and precious little live music.
—Walter Atkins
Lizz Wright
Yoshi's Oakland
Oakland CA
June 29, 2022

The accomplished vocalist and songwriter Lizz Wright introduced an exceptional blend of gospel, folk and jazz genres to an exuberant assembly at Yoshi's. Wright, accompanied by pianist Kenny Banks, gracefully took the stage to a full house in one of the San Francisco Bay Area's favorite music and restaurant venues. In witness to her talent, people ventured out on this Wednesday night to listen and savor the artist's live session. Along with her original compositions, Wright's two decade discography also reflected a fascinating mix of Jimi Hendrix, Bee Gees, Carolyn Franklin, Ike Turner and Led Zeppelin. The set list included: "Jazz Ain't Nothing But Soul," "The Nearness Of You," "Walk With Me Lord," "Without A Song," "Freedom," "Sweet Feeling," and "Give Me The Simple Life."

Yoshi's, the celebrated East Bay music and restaurant spot, made adjustments to survive these difficult two years. Some of those changes included interior work and installing large flat screen TVs on the walls flanking the stage. This was my first visit to Yoshi's in over two years. Ironically, my last concert review of 2020 (Kandace Springs) was here, just days before the national Covid shutdown.

Wright opened the satisfying set with Bernice Johnson Reagan's "I Remember, I Believe." During the song, someone nearby boldly exclaimed their appreciation for the return of live music. Banks' piano solo also garnered a healthy crowd response. "Walk With Me Lord" from Wright's successful debut album Salt (Verve, 2003) thrilled and inspired all with its church vibe. Describing herself as "One of the old souls that moves too slow..." Wright announced she did not scat, but she was "going to swing on the next number." She dove into the Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington classic "Give Me The Simple "Life" which was followed by "The Nearness of You." Wright conveyed pleasant anecdotes of her early years. While selling insurance and studying, she gleefully listened to "Jazz Ain't Nothing But Soul." She recalled this happened "Before I became Lizz Wright," with a smile. The Hahira Georgia native also discussed meeting Mr. Banks, her pianist and teacher in Atlanta.

During the deliciously provocative "Sweet Feeling," the lyrics had the club clapping in time, with supportive audience comments. One of the many set highlights was Birds of Chicago's ballad "Barley" from Wright's Grace album (Concord 2017). Wright's clear voice delivered the track with a sense of quiet strength and resiliency. During one of Banks' joyful solos, a sanctified voice declared, "We're saving souls tonight!" Another vocal gem "Seems I'm Never Tired Lovin' You" was penned by Carolyn Franklin, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin's younger sister. Wright's moving arrangement prompted many devoted audience members to respond loudly and freely while expressing their feelings. "Freedom" with its somber introduction clearly touched the hall. A man proclaimed "Yes!" in acknowledgment of Wright's stirring vocals and authentic lyrics.

Special guests percussionist Marco Rodrigues and guitarist Keyanna Hutchinson sat in with Wright and Banks towards the end of the evening's music. After checking with the tour manager, Wright returned to center stage to sing her encore "No More Will I Run." Everyone in the place was already standing in anticipation of her closing number. Afterwards, some of Lizz Wright's old and new supporters shared their fresh impressions of her passionate presentation. An admirer remarked, "I thought the set was wonderful! So nice to see her heart stopping show. This is absolutely exciting!" Another enthusiastic attendee described the evening in one word, "Incredible!" A South Bay visitor added, " She [Lizz Wright] brings out different aspects of the song and the clarity of the lyrics in play."

The Lizz Wright Duo was like a cool tonic for music aficionados, who've been parched by the last two years of dry pandemic protocols and precious little live music. In the word(s) of one listener, the performance was definitely "Incredible!"

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