Sunday, January 31, 2021

Roseanna Vitro: A Superb Vocalist Reissues Her Debut "Listen Here" from 1982


Roseanna Vitro: Listen Here: Skyline Records 2001

In 1982, an unheralded vocalist, recorded a debut album with her soon to be husband, recording engineer Paul Wickliffe, at his Skyline Studios in New York City. The album was titled Listen Here and the singer’s name was Roseanna Vitro. The album was eventually released in 1985 and it featured the gorgeous, supple, and adventurous voice of Vitro accompanied by a stellar band that included pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams and the drummer Ben Riley. The album also featured her mentor, Texas tenor Arnett Cobb on three cuts, percussion by Brazilian drummer Duduka Da Fonseca on two cuts, and pianist Bliss Rodriguez and guitarist Scott Hardy on one cut each.

After a varied and impressive career as both a performer and an educator, Vitro revisited her earlier work and decided that it might be the right time to reintroduce this album to another generation. In January of this year, the reissued album, Listen Here, almost forty years after it was recorded, is once again available. To a new generation of vocal jazz fans, as well as to some of us old aficionados who might have missed this vocalist’s past work, the album is a confirmation of how Roseanna Vitro’s body of work is an important wellspring to be explored, a rewarding slice of jazz vocal history.

Vitro has certainly led an interesting life. She was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1954 and had been introduced to music by her father John Vitro, a nightclub proprietor whose musical tastes favored Opera, and her mother Ruby, who was a member of a southern gospel singing group. Besides these influences, the environment was conducive to a young singing Vitro to become exposed to and assimilate the musical elements of the blues and the rural south’s hoedown music.

Roseanna Vitro ( photo credit unknown)
By the late sixties, Vitro traveled to Houston, Texas becoming attracted to rock and roll and in pursuit of a pop career. By the early seventies, she was introduced to a vocal instructor and musician, Ray Sullenger, who had worked with the Paul Whitman Orchestra and introduced her to jazz. This led Vitro into performing on the University of Houston’s jazz radio through the seventies. Her Houston experience led to a mentor relationship with Texan tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb, who by the late seventies took Vitro to perform with him at a gig in New York at the Village Vanguard. Energized by that scene, Vitro moved to New York in 1980. Cobb’s guidance allowed her to share the stage with such important jazz figures as Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Mulgrew Miller, and Lionel Hampton, who took her to tour.

Arnett Cobb ( photo credit unknown)

There has never been grass growing under this energetic woman’s feet.  She studied opera, jazz, Brazilian music, Indian vocal techniques, and piano. She developed working relationships with pianists Fred Hersch, who arranged her Listen Here album and played on her A Quiet Place with clarinet/saxophonist Eddie Daniels in 1987. The pianist Kenny Werner worked on several of her other albums, including a Ray Charles tribute, Catchin’ Some Rays with saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman in 1997. She attracted the attention of TV host and jazz fan Steve Allen, who wrote the liner notes for this re-issue, and who produced a record of Vitro singing his music. Released in 1999 that album was titled The Times of My Life: The Music of Steve Allen.

Over her career. Vitro has released fourteen albums, including Conviction: Thoughts of Bill Evans with longtime Evans bassist Eddie Gomez in 2001. She received a Best of Jazz Vocal Album Grammy nomination in 2012 for her album The Music of Randy Newman.

This vibrant vocalist became an important vocal educator in 1995 as a Director of Jazz Studies at New Jersey City University and later at SUNY Purchase until she departed in 2002. The woman’s drive has been insatiable, as her publicist says Vitro is “passionate and spirited.”

Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Ben Riley (photo credit unknown)

Vitro’s passion and spirit is obviously present in huge measures on her album Listen Here.  The music starts off with a Jobim song “No More Blues,” where her confident, elastic vocals float over the band’s vibrant rhythm and her impeccable timing is accentuated by a superb scat section.

On the classic 1938 popular song “You Go to My Head,” Vitro handles the dreamy love song with a fearless, almost musical theater-like audacity. She allows her voice to modulate effortlessly with the changes and the trio of Barron, Williams and Riley play with such authority and verve that the song just glows.

“Centerpiece” finds the honkytonk piano chair occupied by Bliss Rodriguez and features a barrelhouse solo by Texan tenor Arnett Cobb. Cobb’s gritty horn inspires Vitro to strut some of her own formidable blues credentials and gospel-influenced soul.

Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly” is a swinging vehicle for Vitro and for the band to show off their musical harmoniousness. It is a joy to hear Cobb’s blustery saxophone and Vitro’s marvelously pliable instrument to converse in an inspired call and respond action that brims with joy. Hearing Barron’s fluent piano and William's buoyant bass lines make it only more appealing. Vitro returns with a liquid scat that impressively dances over the melody and Riley’s trap work expertly keeps unassumingly impeccable time.

Johnny Mandel’s gorgeous “A Time for Love,” is a splendid display of just how well the trio and Vitro can work such an emotive, show-like song. A song like this can be so memorably expressed by artists that feel the music’s meaning and create the right approach as a unit. This one is simply beautiful.

Dave Frishberg’s “Listen Here” is a story-tellers piece that allows Vitro to shine and making it her own with her gorgeous tone, flawless control, and her ability to emote authentic feelings that cannot be faked. Barron’s piano is just masterful and the two work the song with a simpatico that shines.

The balance of the album includes Jobim’s “This Happy Madness,” a samba like song that includes Hardy’s comping guitar and Vito’s airy vocal, Burke/Van Heusen’s uplifting “It Could Happen to You,” with a wailing tenor solo by Cobb, and a bubbly trap solo by Riley, “Easy Street” is humorously sung blues and features an elastic bass solo by Williams, the musical theater-like “Sometime Ago,” and the cheeky Rodgers/Hart “You Took Advantage of Me.”  

This sparkling album concludes with “Black Coffee,” a slow blues that Vitro sings with a fearless abandon that just brims with espresso-like caffeine and overflows with grit and sass. This last one is just the maraschino cherry on the top of this Vitro sundae that she and the boys served up to us back in 1982 and is gratefully back to thrill us again in 2020. If you love good jazz, blues, and popular music sung by a superb vocalist then Roseanna Vitro’s Listen Here will not disappoint.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Three Like-minded Souls : Jay Clayton, Frtitz Pauer & Ed Neumeister on "3 For the Road"


3 For the Road : Jay Clayton, Fritz Pauer & Ed Neumeister MeisteroMusic  0020 

Back in January of 2001 and June of 2002, now close to twenty years ago, three like spirits were teaching music in Austria at the University of Performing Arts in Graz and they got inspired. 

Vocalist Jay Clayton, pianist Fritz Pauer and trombonist Ed Neumeister decided to play and record some of their eclectic musical ideas and created this imaginative album. These are all pioneering explorers whose creative drive was to conceive and perform art and hopefully expand musical possibilities. As Clayton said in the liner notes her collaborators were known for playing "in and out."  It is sometimes rare to "feel" the empathetic energy that can flow between musicians as they join in an effort to create but not here. The listener has to suspend reality to some degree and go with the flow to appreciate the creative process going on right in front of them. This is just one of those serendipitous times when the stars were aligned and the music was exceptional. As Neumeister related "Magic in music, especially in improvisatory music, happens when everybody totally trusts each other so that the individuals merge into a separate living organism." 

The album is a snapshot in time of what these three like-minded souls were able to achieve as a trio back then. Fritz Pauer, the pianist who at this time was known as "the" avant-garde pianist in Austria and who in the sixties who had played with Booker Ervin, Art Farmer, and Dexter Gordon, died suddenly in July of 2012. It is a gift that Pauer's sensitive playing with these two musicians is preserved and released for posterity and for our endless enjoyment.

The album includes four compositions that were composed collectively and free-improvised by the group, The scatty  "Love is a Place," was inspired by an ee cummings poem. The conversational "Fun" is just that, a musical joy. The ethereal and expressive "Gobblers Nob" is a not miss gorgeous improvisation and one of my favorite tunes on the album.  "May I Go" and "Yak'n" finish off the experimental selections where piano, trombone and voice join to create a moving feast of musical expression. Clayton's voice is supple and expressive and Neumeister's animated trombone can evoke crying voices, gurgling slurs, or sighing expressiveness. Pauer's rubbing of the strings on his piano creates another tonal feature. The trio offers a wild ride on the percussive "Badadadat."  

For the more identifiable melody anchored listeners, Clayton's voice is gorgeously expressive in Mancini's "Two for the Road" and her almost musical cabaret-like take on Burke and Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You"  is a treat.

Be open, explore, and take the time to enjoy and be swept up by the inventiveness and audaciousness of this mostly progressive music and these talented musicians on 3 For The Road.