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Ann Hampton Callaway: At Last

Woodrow Wilkins By

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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 most—if not all—renderings 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 on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, along with a few guest musicians.

Callaway's earthy vocal is comparable to that of Sarah Vaughan. She delivers a cool, swinging take on Cole Porter'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 heights—quite 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's classic "Spain." Actually, it's a cover of a cover by Al Jarreau, 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 majority—if not all—of 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.

Personnel: Ann Hampton Callaway: vocals; Ted Rosenthal: piano; Jay Leonhart: bass, additional vocals (2); Victor Lewis: drums; Rodney Jones: guitar (2-8, 10); Mads Toling: violin (7); Teodross Avery: tenor saxophone (4); Marvin Stamm: flugelhorn (9); Wycliffe Gordon: trombone (2); Emedin Rivera: percussion (5, 6, 8, 10).

Title: At Last | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Telarc Records

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