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It takes a certain degree of nerve to take on "At Last," Mack Gordon and Harry Warren's classic ballad. Etta James' definitive recording is the standard by which mostif not allrenderings are judged. Singer Ann Hampton Callaway has that nerve, and then some.
Callaway, a performer in the Broadway musical Swing!, composed and sang the theme to the hit television series The Nanny. Her associations include Wynton Marsalis
and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops. She was also the invited guest performer for former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev's Youth Peace Summit. For At Last, Callaway is accompanied by her trio of Ted Rosenthal on piano, Jay Leonhart
's "What Is This Thing Called Love?," with Rosenthal contributing a charming piano solo and, toward the end of the track, Callaway scatting in dialogue exchanges with Lewis and Leonhart.
Guitarist Rodney Jones and saxophonist Teodross Avery join the ensemble for the title song. Callaway starts with a soft, vocal introduction, then belts out those words: "At last, ..." Callaway takes the song to new heightsquite a feat, considering the base material is powerful to begin with. Accented by Avery's solo and Lewis' emphasis on the toms, this rendition is an eye-opener.
Callaway turns the power up higher with Chick Corea
, who co-wrote the lyrics. Percussionist Edemin Rivera adds that Spanish touch to his instruments. As the song progresses, it evokes memories of Corea's instrumental recordings and Jarreau's stunning rendition while, at the same time, appreciating Callaway. She does justice to the earlier efforts while putting her own stamp on this timeless piece, her scatting during the song's high point adding to its beauty.
One interesting thing about At Last is that no song is less than four minutes. Typically, with vocal albums the majorityif not allof the songs are in that radio-friendly zone of three minutes and under. The longer running times here score the double hit of providing more time to enjoy Callaway's voice and making clear that it's a full band effort, with some instrumental breaks and solos mixed in. Combined, that makes At Last a total package.
Track Listing: 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.