“Swingin’ Away the Blues” opens Ann Hampton Callaway’s set, and it’s safe to say that all blues are swung away from the congregated patrons at the Blue Note. Callaway gives as good an 80 minutes worth of singing, and swinging, as you’re likely to hear anywhere in town.
The opening number, by the way, is a fine song, one of three on the program written by Callaway. The rest of the 11-song program is overloaded with superb perfs of superb tunes. “The Best is Yet to Come,” “How High the Moon,” “Tenderly,” “Here’s That Rainy Day”; these are the cream of the cabaret crop, and so frequently performed that they can bring forth unwelcome comparisons. No worry here: Callaway is simply impeccable.
Singer is very much at home at the Blue Note, which at the opening was packed with fans. Set was not a question of simply Callaway’s greatest hits, either; Callaway sang a rendition of “Lazy Afternoon,” apparently a new addition to her repertoire. “This is an abstract painting, of ‘Lazy Afternoon’,” she ad libbed to the bridge, “that we hardly rehearsed, and it’s getting worse.” Under-rehearsed or no, this was a stunning rendition.
Opening set was capped with “Lover, Come Back to Me” and an audience request of the self-penned “I’ve Dreamed of You.” “You don’t have that,” she told her bass and drummer as she sat at the keys. “Just wing it.” And they did.
Arrangements are first-rate, perfectly matching Callaway. Pianist Ted Rosenthal plays numerous solos, complementing his singer; Victor Lewis captures every nuance on the drums; and Jay Leonhart truly stands out on the bass. These players are a joy to listen to, with or without their vocalist.