by John Ferrara
Blues In The Night
Personnel: Ann Hampton Callaway: vocals, Ted Rosenthal: piano, Christian McBride:
bass, Lewis Nash: drums, with special guests: Liz Callaway: vocals,
David Gilmore: guitar, Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra.
1. Swingin’ Away the Blues 2. Blue Moon
3. Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most
4. Lover Come Back to Me
5. Stormy Weather / When the Sun Comes Out
6. The I’m-Too-White-To-Sing-the-Blues Blues
7. Willow Weep for Me
8. Hip To Be Happy
9. It’s All Right with Me
10. No One Is Alone
11. Blues in the Night
12. The Glory of Love
Ann Hampton Callaway
Blues In The Night
Great vocalist, great musicians, great material, one superb CD. Ok I am done with the review. The rest of the words are superfluous, but read on. Ann Hampton Callaway could sing anything and make it pulse with passion and swing at the same time. Listening to her one could imagine her taking vocal viagra to sound this powerful, energetic, and in total control of her voice. I remember seeing her many years ago accompanying herself on piano and man, can she play – such a great one of a kind talent all rolled into one musical dynamo – and intonation? Yikes. This session was three years in the making, and it shows. And the contributions of the accompanying musicians and arrangers certainly put an exclamation point on this CD. And there is a nice sense of humor showing through the seams as well. Reviewing a recording of this quality makes the task so much easier, descriptive words are so easy to come by.
“Swingin’ Away the Blues” sets the stage with perfection. Ms. Callaway shows off her dynamic vocal ability which is replete with precise intonation that is almost heartbreaking along with great swinging eighth notes -- all the while riding the propelling waves of the great Diva Jazz Orchestra over a superb Tommy Newsom chart. You want some more deserved hyperbole? Read on.
“Blue Moon” begins with the beautiful seldom heard verse. Here is classic Callaway again accompanied by a dynamic and skillful small band that gently and powerfully accompanies the strong vocal performance that any aspiring singer would die to emulate. A nice tenor solo by Anat Cohen is featured. Also listen for David Gilmore’s guitar along with Ted Rosenthal, Christian Mcbride, and the master drummer Lewis Nash.
Such a nice group – such a nice vocal performance.
Now if there is a tune I can truly say is one of my favorites to listen to and play, it is “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” by the incomparable Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf. Ms. Callaway performs a lovely interpretation of the classic. The arrangement by Bill Mays is elegantly done featuring splendid two horn writing and a supportive rhythm section. This type of writing for the small group is a lost art.
“Lover Come Back to Me” is taken at the requisite 97 miles an hour with another Tommy Newsome gem of an arrangement performed impeccably by the Diva Jazz Orchestra. Here Ann trades vocal jibes with tenorist Anat Cohen. This is the show stopper – last call for alcohol and burn the bridges behind you – nice vocal flirting with the b5 on the last Dbmaj7th – let me tell you this lady knows music. Her range is astonishing – she reminds me so much of Ella.
“Stormy Weather” is performed by Ms. Callaway with a stunning blues feel and terrific phrasing. AND enter her wonderfully talented sister Liz Callaway (good things come in twos) for her own rendition of “When the Sun Comes Out” and then the two join for a duet that will knock you out. To perpetuate the happiness, “The I’m-Too-White-To-Sing-The-Blues Blues” by Ann Hampton Callaway is a great classic. The lyrics are so clever and let me tell you that in spite of the humorous implication of the title (a great one-liner itself) Ms. Callaway can sing with the highest blues sound you will hear anywhere. I used to play piano in some Baptist churches and I think I can attest to her authentic blues sound.
The beautiful “Willow Weep for Me” by another talented musician, Ann Ronell, is offered by Ann in another blues steeped vocal performance accompanied by a great trio; most vocalists are not fortunate enough to experience the thrill of working with such talented and supportive musicians. Ted, Christian, and Mr. Nash are jazz elegance personified who are the rhythmic and harmonic nucleus of the CD. This measure of talent is required to keep up with the likes of Ms. Callaway.
“Hip to be Happy”, an Ann Hampton Callaway original, features some clever vocal overdubbing. A bossa nova rhythmic feel highlights the arrangement on Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right with Me”. It is unusual that a vocalist can do an entire CD with such varied material and sound so strong and convincing and musical on every tune – it is a rarity. Peggy Lee, Ray Charles, and Sinatra had that quality. I think it is a combination of tune choice and an extraordinary penchant for performing for and connecting to the listener.
If there is a personal favorite one of mine here it is Ann’s interpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s haunting and beautiful “No One Is Alone” – and those song descriptors fit Ms. Callaway’s performance here. Listen to a short Coltrane sounding solo by Anat Cohen with a pretty sound.
Now there is an unwritten law that for any CD that contains twelve tracks, the eleventh has got to be the best one (I made that up). The title tune “Blues in the Night”, skillfully arranged by Harold Wheeler and Jack Everly, includes tempo changes and a knock-em-drag-em-out performance by Ann. Like the man said, “mama mia!”. You ain’t gonna hear this kind of performance at a wedding reception anytime soon. The encore “The Glory of Love” is elevated to new esthetic heights by Ms. Callaway, a song’s best friend. Listen to her Ella type cadenza on this track.
Most of my life has been accompanying vocalists. I started working with my wife Glenna Gibson back in my rookie days in Boston and we still work together to this day. One thing she instilled in me more than anyone was the necessity for a pianist to listen to the vocalist, listen to the lyrics, respond and don’t dictate. I later worked with Joe Williams and others and that helped me hone my abilities. When I hear Ms. Callaway, I am also listening, as a reviewer, yes, but also as a pianist -- and hearing what she does with her voice and how musical her accompanists are here, I can connect with what she does; all of the tracks are cohesive and magical. We don’t use star ratings on JR247 but this is a definite fiver.