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Roseanna Vitro & Kenny Werner: The Delirium Blues Project: Serve or Suffer

n 2006, Texas-born vocalist Roseanna Vitro and her frequent partner in smart, scintillating musical excavation, pianist/arranger Kenny Werner, served up one of the year’s best with their richly hued Live at the Kennedy Center. As a follow-up, the dynamic duo decided to again record live, this time at New York’s Blue Note. The projects couldn’t be more different than chalk and cheese or, more aptly, than glittering diamonds and smoky pearls.

Where the Kennedy Center outing was constructed around stunning interpretations of standards, here the grandly realized intent was to trace the blues idiom from the Mississippi Delta to Detroit’s inner-city funk (with a cross-border dash for some Canadian fire and ice), while simultaneously carving an undercurrent of modern jazz as practiced by the brilliant likes of Randy Brecker, John Patitucci, James Carter and Ray Anderson. They open with a marvelously tight treatment of Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip?,” then proceed to answer the question with wide-ranging nods to Janis Joplin (a simmering “Half Moon” that slowly rises to full flame), Joni Mitchell (a jagged, horn-fueled “Be Cool”), Esther Phillips (a sassy “Cheater Man” that sounds as if it’s been lifted straight out of the Stax vaults), Bonnie Raitt (the sly raised fist of “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy”) and Tracy Nelson (nine joyously guttural minutes of “Goodnight Nelda Grebe, the Telephone Company Has Cut Us Off” that veer from hard boil to soft roil and back again). But for 90-proof proof of Vitro’s underappreciated eminence among contemporary vocalists (and Werner’s equally exemplary brilliance as an arranger) look no further than the kaleidoscopic reading of Eric Bibb’s “Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirits Down” that closes this hour-long slice of swamp-dredging, heaven-reaching genius.

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