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Music Review: Ann Hampton Callaway – At Last

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Ann Hampton Callaway brings a strong theatrical sense to her recordings. She’s not one to simply assemble a collection of individual songs, easily sampled in bits and pieces – her projects tend to have an arc, a flow from beginning to end. With each outing, Hampton Callaway takes listeners on a musical journey, exploring love in all its facets with clear-eyed candor that’s nonetheless unabashedly romantic.

At Last, her third (counting a Christmas collection) outing on Telarc, may be her most cohesive project yet. A mix of the familiar (the title track, “Over The Rainbow”) and a handful of originals (her own “Save A Place For Me” and “Finding Beauty”), the disc is a flawlessly assembled collection that flows seamlessly from beginning to end.

That’s not to say there aren’t standout moments aplenty; guest Wycliffe Gordon’s trombone work on “Comes Love” alone is worth the price of admission, and Hampton Callaway’s dramatic take on “At Last” rescues the tune from relegation to weddings only (hey, it’s a jazz tune after all!). Arrangements are inventive, from the jazzy doo-wop rhythms cushioning Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” to the subtly evocative violin that colors the background in Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide.” (Neither is typical of jazz playlists, but Hampton Callaway, working with co-arrangers Rosenthal and Bill Mays, manages to make even the more adventurous selections fit perfectly). “Lazy Afternoon” is as dreamy and delicate as its title suggests, with faint birdsong in the background; a similar dreamy delicacy brings things to a close with “On My Way To You,” a fittingly gauzy conclusion to a celebration of romance.

Callaway’s theatrical background lends a dramatic flair to her delivery, and there’s an elegant sophistication to proceedings here, a sense of silk and champagne in every note. Accompaniment is top-notch, with Hampton Callaway’s core trio (Ted Rosenthal on piano, Jay Leonhart on bass, with drummer Lewis Nash), and guests adding texture as appropriate. Sound is typical of Telarc, crisp and clear, with ideal balance and definition.

Hampton Callaway’s choice of material – there’s not a trace of heartbreak to be found, relatively rare in a ballad-heavy collection – leads one to believe her own journey to love has been successful … at last (pun intended). Joining her on that journey proves a delightful voyage indeed!

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