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KSDS Jazz 88 launched their fall concert series, Jazz Live, with a performance by Roseanna Vitro, who is touring in support of her latest recording on the Motema Music Label, The Music of Randy Newman.

Vitro was born in Arkansas and spent much of her early career in Houston. "Randy comes out of New Orleans, so I can relate to that sense of barbeque in his music," said the singer.

The arrangements on the Newman record were written by Vitro's regular pianist, Mark Soskin, who didn't just reharmonize everything and turn the idiosyncratic composer's cadences into swing — rather, he chose to adapt the material as close to its original spirit as possible.

Vitro, who now resides in New Jersey, brought pianist Jason Teborek and violinist Zach Brock to the West Coast, and, in San Francisco, enlisted veteran drummer Akira Tana for the San Diego gig. Ubiquitous local bassist Rob Thorsen completed the ensemble.

Vitro's strong, no-nonsense, pitch-perfect alto is a natural fit for the music of Randy Newman. She was able to interpret songs like "Sail Away" into a dynamic that didn't lose sight of Newman's sardonic wit and world-weary sense of irony.

The singer's massive jazz credentials never hijacked the spirit of Newman's music, and when she ventured outside that composer's catalog — her inerrant sense of swing and adventurous musicality served a welcome respite from the empty vocal gymnastics of the "American Idol" world we live in.

Special kudos go to Teborek, who handled the straight-eighth rhythmic flow of the Newman material with considerable grace. His solo's were essays in golden toned, fully formed ideas, reminiscent of Lyle Mays's early work with Pat Metheny.

Tana rocked the house with his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink drum solo on "Mama Told Me Not to Come", rearranged with a sultry, stealth dynamic. Thorsen's growling whole notes and joyous walking bass meshed well with the drummer's aesthetic, even though it was their first time playing together.

The principal melodic counterpoint was handled by the excellent, soulful violin of Brock, who nearly stole the show with his intricate lines and sumptuous glissandi, especially on "Sail Away" and "In Germany Before the War," where his attack took on the nature of a soprano saxophone.

Newman's winsome ballad in waltz time, "Losing You," featured a tricky ensemble arrangement that consumed most of the early rehearsal time I witnessed, but Vitro's unadorned, naked honesty made it a highlight moment worthy of all the effort.

Whether she was re-imagining the music of Randy Newman or swinging like nobody's business, Rosanne Vitro's Saville Theatre performance was a master class in pure musical expression.


Pictured: Roseanna Vitro

Photo credit: Michael Oletta

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