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At Last by Ann Hampton Callaway

How fortunate. Ann Hampton Callaway had no idea how famous the title song of her new CD would become between the time that its recording was completed and it was released. During that lag between production and distribution, Beyonce famously sang "At Last" for the Obamas’ first dance of the Inaugural Ball, and it was played in the remaining nine balls as well. Now, everyone knows "At Last" if they didn’t before. Callaway chose the song for its emotional power, as did the Obamas, although the song does contain some appropriate political double meanings like "at last skies above are blue" as well as romantic ones such as "I found a dream that I can speak to." Originally, Callaway had planned a standard heart-felt version of the song until her producer suggested that she allow its implicit passion to emerge. Which Callaway does as it becomes soulful with Rodney Jones’ counter-statements on guitar and as tenor saxman Theodross Avery drenches it in blues. That solo seems to unhinge Callaway as pianist Ted Rosenthal adds suggestion of six-eight doo-wap, and she pours out her feelings, exclamatory and unrestrained, as her extraordinary abilities allow. A reinforcement of its emotional bearing that the world saw as Beyonce struggled tearfully through the emotions of the song. Presciently, Callaway wrote in the liner notes in 2008, "Good songs remind us that there is more to life than headlines." How true.

As a set-up to the rest of At Last, the title track effectively implies Callaway’s intentions of making each song a story in itself as she moves from the wonder of "What Is This Thing Called Love?" to her own final composition about perseverence, "Finding Beauty," which offers its own sense of beauty akin to an Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman song, concise with apt interlocking of emotions, lyrics and melody. No wonder Barbra Streisand asked Callaway to write the lyrics to her own wedding song. Coincidentally nor not, Callaway ends At Last with a Legrand/Bergman/Bergman song, "On My Way to You," which is entirely consistent with the feel of her own writing. In between those beginning and ending tracks of At Last Callaway presents her own finely developed repertoire of love songs that reinforce each other in content and move sequentially to logical conclusion.

The breadth of Callaway’s talent and the length of her resume defy the categorization that some jazz listeners prefer. "Over the Rainbow" doesn’t receive re-modulation or scat singing,but Callaway sings it, complete with verse, for all the emotional power that it evokes, employing her surety of pitch and width of her range for great effect, not as a complement to Judy Garland’s version but as a continuation of her albums narrative journey. Though Callaway has sung with symphony orchestra, jazz bands, in cabaret settings, on Broadway, on TV entertainment shows and even in the film The Good Shepherd, there’s no denying not only her interest in, but her personalized adaptation of jazz singing. Who does her version of "What Is This Thing Called Love?" remind one of but Sarah Vaughan, with her way of trilling notes or employing characteristic swoops or chromatic descents or scatting or implying swing even during rests or ending the song on a ninth? Callaways encouragement from George Shearing comes through during her chorus of unison singing with Rosenthal’s block-chord playing. In addition, Callaway enjoys the interaction with some of the current generation’s top jazz musicians, such as her comical colloquy with Wycliffe Gordon on "Comes Love," during which he sings too, but through the trombone with the growl from his muting and the blue notes expressed in several octaves before the key change.

Though Ann Hampton Callaway has recorded often, At Last provides a continuity of thought and feeling throughout the CD that makes it a total package, rather than a random selection of songs. And the emotion that that song evoked during the inaugural balls give a clue of what one would hear on the album.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ann Hampton Callaway
  • CD Title: At Last
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Telarc
  • Tracks: What Is This Thing Called Love, Comes Love, Carey, At Last, Spain, Lazy Afternoon, Landslide, Save A Place For Me, Over The Rainbow, Finding Beauty, On My Way To You
  • Musicians: Ann Hampton Callaway (vocals), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Jay Leonhart (bass), Victor Lewis (drums). With Marvin Stamm (flugelhorn), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Teodross Avery (tenor saxophone), Rodney Jones (guitar), Mads Tolling (violin), Emedin Rivera (percussion)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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