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JAZZ REVIEWS : Vitro Connects--With Her Trio and Her Songs

December 11, 1987|DON HECKMAN

When Roseanna Vitro turned to her pianist Wednesday night at the Vine St. Bar & Grill and said, "How long have we been playing together, Fred?" the musical tone for the New York-based singer's West Coast debut instantly became clear.

The key word, of course, was "playing." Vitro came across as a performer determined to use her voice with the same musical breadth and density with which instrumentalists use their horns. Her musical connection with pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Ralph Penland had the interaction of an ensemble, rather than the separatism of a singer with accompaniment.

Vitro's scatting, for example, reached well beyond the repetitious riffing typical of many jazz vocalists. On an easy-swinging "It Could Happen to You" and a harder-edged, up-tempo "In the Name of Love," she roved easily across three octaves, curling her line around the chords with the punch and drive of a first-rate jazz improviser.

Her blues singing, rich with slippery melismas and brassy shouts, was just as good, especially on a powerfully intense final chorus of "I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues."

But the extra element that identified Vitro as one of the most gifted young singers to emerge in the late '80s was her way with a lyric. Her intense involvement with the flow of the music, fascinating in itself, was always used to support her understanding dramatization of the stories behind her songs.

Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad," a work that makes difficult musical demands, was performed with a stark contrast between blues inflections and soft lyricism--a perfectly balanced vehicle for the message behind the words.

The standard "Yesterdays," Dave Frishberg's lovely "You Are There" and Frank Foster's "Weaver of Dreams" received similarly thoughtful readings.

Regrettably, her current visit was limited to the Wednesday-night session. As a performer who may well play a prominent role in the jazz of the 1990s, she deserves a longer engagement in the Southland.

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