Wright Releases "The Orchard" on Verve Record
Wright's first two Verve releases, Salt and Dreaming Wide
Awake, established her as one of the jazz world's most celebrated
rising stars, both an accomplished songwriter and a versatile,
deeply expressive singer. On her third album The Orchard,
the Georgia-bred, New York-based artist takes a substantial
leap forward, transcending genre distinctions to deliver
a vibrant, intensely creative milestone.
largely self-penned The Orchard finds Wright mining her
own experience to create an unmistakably personal musical
statement. The warmth and resonance of Wright's gospel-trained
contralto is matched by the intimacy and authority of such
original compositions as "Coming Home," "My
Heart," "Another Angel" and "When I
Fall." Wright's interpretive skills are equally impressive
on revelatory readings of the Ike and Tina Turner classic
"I Idolize You," Sweet Honey in the Rock's "Hey
Mann," the Led Zeppelin ballad "Thank You"
and Patsy Cline's haunting "Strange."
Orchard reflects Wright's lifelong musical journey. The
artist was born in the small rural town of Hahira, Georgia,
one of three children of a minister father and a mother
who sang gospel at church services. In her childhood, she
began playing piano and singing in church with her two siblings.
In high school, she broadened her musical horizons by studying
choral singing, performing with groups of various sizes
and winning several regional and national awards.
subsequently studied voice at Georgia State University in
Atlanta, and continued her musical education at New York's
New School and in Vancouver. Returning to Atlanta, she won
considerable regional acclaim after joining the jazz group
In the Spirit. In 2002, Wright gained high-profile acclaim
for her performances as part of a touring Billie Holiday
tribute, for which she was singled out as a future star
by several prominent critics.
2003 debut Salt introduced Wright as both an accomplished
songwriter and an effortlessly magnetic performer, delivering
subtly persuasive vocal performances in understated jazz/R&B
settings. Salt won international acclaim, earning Wright
comparisons with such formidable figures as Nina Simone
and Abbey Lincoln. It also struck a chord with the public,
reaching the Number Two slot on Billboard's Contemporary
New York Times' Stephen Holden praised Wright's "astonishing
maturity and poise" and wrote that she "stirs
jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues into a reflective, flowing
style that elongates songs into prayerful meditations that
never wander into vagueness," and described her singing
as "pitch-perfect, with a smoky, full-bodied texture...
impressive in its steadiness, control and rhythmic subtlety."
Wide Awake followed in 2005, expanding Wright's interpretive
range on a broad array of material ranging from Fats Waller
to Neil Young. The sophomore effort reached the top position
on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart, and marked the
start of Wright's productive association with producer Craig
Street, whose resume includes work with such notable female
auteurs as Cassandra Wilson, k.d. lang and Me'Shell NdegéOcello.
collaboration with Street continues on The Orchard. While
her prior releases boasted contributions from some of the
jazz world's most respected jazz players, The Orchard features
an eclectic cast that includes noted singer/songwriter Toshi
Reagon, who co-wrote several songs with Wright; Calexico
members Joey Burns and John Convertino; avant-guitar hero
Oren Bloedow; longtime Bob Dylan sideman Larry Campbell;
Ollabelle member Glenn Patscha; and guest vocalists Catherine
Russell and Marc Anthony Thompson (aka Chocolate Genius).
Orchard's fluid, intimate performances reflect the unpretentious
spirit in which the music was created. The project actually
began with a set of photographs taken by Wright in her rural
hometown, focusing on the orchard of the title, a setting
that she's known since childhood.
Orchard started with a trip that I took home to see my grandparents,
and watching how they interacted with their neighbors and
friends," Wright recalls. "It got me thinking
about where I was born and grew up, and that really inspired
me a lot. I took some pictures of that area, and I made
a little slide show and set it to the Tom Waits song "I
Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" and I took
that to Verve and said 'This is what I want to do.' We went
back to do another photo shoot, before we'd even recorded
any music. And when I sat down with Craig and the writers
and musicians, I showed them the pictures and played them
the Tom Waits song. Everyone responded to them in their
own way, and everyone brought their own insight and sensibilities
to this concept that I showed them, and that helped to take
the record to a different place.
liked the idea of this record having a soul that was centered
around the orchard," she explains. "But I didn't
feel compelled to stay married to the concept. I Initially
wanted this record to be very much about home, about Hahira,
and I took a lot of signals from there, but it ended up
becoming something else. I wanted to name it The Orchard
because that's where it started."
they began recording, Wright and Reagon debuted The Orchard's
songs with a series of low-key live sets at the small East
Village club Banjo Jim's. "We played through everything
to figure out how we wanted to approach the songs.
tried out a lot of arranging ideas and different approaches,
and the arrangements changed every night. That was a great
process, and it was a challenge to me to make something
real out of these songs that I didn't really know yet. It's
the first time I've done that, working through songs live
before making a record and learning just how far I could
organic approach was maintained throughout the recording
process, which took place at studios in upstate New York's
Catskill mountains, in Tucson, Arizona and Brooklyn. The
sessions emphasized spontaneity and chemistry. "We
exchanged different sounds and different textures, and worked
out the arrangement right then and there,'" Wright
notes. "We didn't decide before going into the studio
what the songs would sound like; we just had an idea or
a feeling, and sometimes Craig would suggest something or
someone would play something and we'd follow the vibe. All
of the musicians who were involved in this record had something
to do with the way we ended up playing the songs, and I
think that gave the project breadth and depth."
rare ability to exist within the musical moment is one of
the qualities that make Lizz Wright a special artist and
The Orchard a career milestone. "This record was a
huge learning experience, in every way, and I think it showed
me a lot about myself," she states. "I never would
have imagined that I would have written some of the things
I wrote on this record, or told some of these stories. But
I felt really free and I really let myself go, and I surprised