Delirium Blues Project: Serve or Suffer (2008)
This all-star jazz-meets-R&B project, recorded live at the Blue Note in August '07 is orchestrated by vocalist Roseanna Vitro and pianist Kenny Werner who contributes several head-spinning arrangements of familiar blues, rhythm and blues, and not-quite-blues. The album certainly gets an "A" for effort. "I found the writing process fascinating. Some of the tunes were very familiar in their original recorded versions, but I still wanted to give them a new spin," enthuses Werner. "That required me to honor the essence of what made them work the first time aroundwhether they were funky or nasty or rockin."
Werner's opening rearrangement of the '70s R&B classic "What is Hip?" comes blasting out like a cannonball and smartly retains most of the original Tower of Power horn chart, which maximizes the considerable punch of the Delirium all-star horns: Ray Anderson (trombone), Randy Brecker (trumpet), James Carter (tenor sax) and Geoff Countryman (baritone sax, bass clarinet). "Cheater Man" similarly plays rough and tumble but with the big-band R&B meets blues sound of Roomful of Blues, especially when the horns play cat-and-mouse with Rocky Bryant's whippersnap snare in the bridge.
Joni Mitchell's "Be Cool" fits Vitro's voice and delivery best, with Werner's arrangement wafting comfortably in Mitchell's ethereal and floating jazz-pop fusion, bobbing like a balloon after air punches from its horn chart. Werner's take on "Blue," co-written by Jon Hendricks, echoes the classic "big band with vocalist" sound: Overlaying horns harmonize the introduction, then step aside for Vitro's dance with Werner's acoustic piano to time softly kept by brushes; Vitro steps aside in turn for James Carter's well-trimmed alto solo.
Arranged to a rousing blend of classic blues stylesthe chugging locomotive of electric Chicago blues lugging a boxcar bursting with New Orleans brass"Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" proves the perfect closer. Vitro tugs and pulls with all her might though she sometimes seems a bit overmatched if not by Werner's arrangements then by the material (Lil Green's "In the Dark," for example). Even so, Werner and guitarist Adam Rogers rip off electric blues solos almost as torrid as the call and response between Brecker and Anderson, who proceeds to blow out all the windows with his trombone solo rampage.
Track Listing: What Is Hip; Goodnight Nelda Grebe, The Telephone Company Has Cut Us Off; Blue; Be Cool; Half Moon; In the Dark; Cheater Man; Everybody's Cryin' Mercy; Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down.
Personnel: Kenny Werner: keyboards, arrangements; Roseanna Vitro: vocals; Randy Brecker: trumpet; James Carter: tenor sax; Ray Anderson: trombone; Geoff Countryman: baritone sax; Adam Rogers: guitar; John Patitucci: acoustic bass, electric bass; Rocky Bryant: drums.