Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ann Hampton Callaway: At Last

Telarc Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.7.09
Buy CD: At Last

Ann Hampton Callaway is a multitalented musician with experience in Broadway shows, clubs and lounges, and is involved in every aspect of her craft. She's listed as an arranger for each of the 11 tunes on this release, and she wrote two of them. She's also an excellent vocalist.

Callaway likes theme albums; her first featured tunes with blues variations, while this one addresses the various aspects of love. She covers well-known standards by Cole Porter, Lew Brown, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Harold Arlen and Michel LeGrand; although some of the charts are done up-tempo, most are performed as ballads.

Callaway's remarkable vocal range is richly evident, above and below her natural alto voicing; she can be sensuous and exciting, and her enunciation and pitch are excellent.

But I detect performance differences, when comparing this album to her previous release; she has become more theatrical and less of a jazz vocalist. Putting it another way, she's developing Barbara Streisand's characteristics: Every tune sounds like the sort of production number you'd expect on a stage or in a high-class supper club, rather than the more casual and relaxed format of a jazz club.

Her backup group features the basic trio with which she usually performs — pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Victor Lewis — and also includes a sextet consisting of flugelhorn, tenor sax, trombone, guitar, violin and percussion. It's a smooth ensemble, and they complement Callaway admirably.

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