Thursday, February 1, 2007

Ann Hampton Callaway: Blues in the Night

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.1.07
Buy CD: Blues in the Night

The spotlight goes on, the curtain opens and out steps another muti-talented jazz vocalist. 

But wait, I hear you say ... this lady isn't new; she has been around for years. 

So why don't we West Coasters know her better? 

Callaway lives and works primarily in the New York music world, and she's better known as a writer/composer, Broadway stage performer — she had a featured role in the Broadway stage musical Swing — and top-o'-the-heap lounge artist. She has been part of more than 40 albums and has played most of the famous jazz clubs and toured extensively in Europe, but the demand for her writing and composing skills apparently has buffered her from the usual jazz scene. 

This CD's liner notes credit her as co-arranger on almost every track; she performs all the vocals (several with her sister, Liz Callaway), wrote all the special lyrics and played a key role in the recording/production process. I wouldn't be surprised if she swept out the studio and make sure the lights were off, before leaving each day! 

Callaway is backed on several tracks by the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra, a big band — headed by Sherrie Maricle — that really swings. Callaway is backed by smaller ensembles — quartets or quintets — on most of the songs, however. Either way, the arrangements, musicians and solo work are excellent. 

And she can sing. 

Callaway has a remarkable range, approaching that of Cleo Laine. Callaway is a natural alto: smooth and sensuous for ballads, bright and swinging for up-tempo tunes. She can progress into a stratospheric soprano in a heartbeat, without distortion, hitting each note clear as a bell. 

Oh, yes, she also scats. 

Blues in the Night is a well conceived and performed album. All the songs are blues-related, in various meters, and include many tried and true oldies: "Blue Moon," "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," "Lover Come Back to Me," "Stormy Weather," "When the Sun Comes Out," "It's All Right with Me," "Blues in the Night" and "The Glory of Love." 

I'm not usually a huge fan of vocalists, but this lady moves me. Based on this CD and her wealth of previous releases — along with what appears to be a top-rated management team — this lady can go as far as she wants.

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