There’s something special about Lizz Wright at the Dakota.
Maybe it’s because the gospel-soul-jazz-folk singer from Georgia was jazzed about the full house that showed up to see her Wednesday night even though she doesn’t have a new record out.
Maybe it’s because she shook the tambourine that Prince gave her there three years ago – at what turned out to be the last concert he saw, a mere two days before he died. (She said she should probably have put the tambourine in a frame.)
Maybe it’s because the intimacy of the Dakota makes it ideal to appreciate the warmth and intimacy of her distinctive contralto voice and the subtle expressiveness of her musicians.
Even though she apologized for her melancholy set list and disinterest in patter, Wright captivated for a meditative hour and a half with her soulful gospelly voice and her stellar band, featuring bassist Ben Zwerin and keyboardist Kenny Banks.
She did a few selections from 2017’s “Grace,” including k.d. lang’s pristine “Wash Me Clean,” Thomas Dorsey’s gospel standard “Singing in My Soul” and the title track.
From earlier albums, Wright offered her own mystical “Somewhere Down in Mystic” and “Walk with Me Lord,” which started in the church and ended up in a funky Stevie Wonder-like groove.
Also special were her jazzy reading of Neil Young’s “Old Man,” full of intriguing tensions and Chris Bruce’s distorted Eastern-flavored guitar, and a hymn-like treatment of Judy Collins’ “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.”
In introducing the Collins classic written by Sandy Denny, Wright, 39, said she told the producer of “Grace,” Joe Henry, that she didn’t think she was mature enough to record that song. But she thought she’d give it a try at the Dakota.
As she sang “I have no thought of leaving” to the drummer’s marching beat and later “I do not fear time,” it was hard not to think of Henry’s journey since he announced just last weekend that he has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which forced him to cancel his singer-songwriter Dakota gig earlier this year.
Indeed, it was an extra-special Wright moment at the Dakota.