Josephine Sanges: Finding Beauty

| October 16, 2017

Josephine Sanges

Finding Beauty:

Celebrating Ann Hampton Callaway

October 12, 2017

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes

Paying tribute to a living singer-songwriter who is as active and honored as Ann Hampton Callaway might prove daunting in the wrong hands. One of those iffy challenges involves an artist relying on a possible copycat technique. Then, the results are technically adept, but emotionally chilly. Not so here. With her new CD, Finding Beauty, Josephine Sanges shines a new light on worthy songs, all but one written, co-written, or recorded and performed by Callaway. She does this by never distancing herself from the listener. 

Some songs have had a life in cabaret over the years. Many are familiar to audiences of jazz and cabaret, in which Callaway has had a formidable and honored career for over two decades (she’s also a Tony nominee, for Swing!). The nuggets on this album (which also contains some American classics that are part of Callaway’s repertoire) are a mix of older and newer favorites. But, can Sanges really make these songs her own? She is relatively new on the cabaret scene. Consequently, by venturing into such territory, she takes on the risk of being compared to a beloved, established artist. Talk about walking a tightrope.

She sharpens any blurred lines between imagery and reality on a standard like “How High the Moon” (Nancy Hamilton/Morgan Lewis, with additional lyrics by John M. Cook). This style is also one of Callaway’s calling cards. Yet, Sanges does make the song her own — and that is the key to the success of this special album.

All that said, it must be noted that Sanges holds her own with grace, class, and lush vocal stylings. It all adds up to an intelligent project under the guidance of creative consultant Deb Berman. Sanges puts enough of herself into her interpretations to suggest a rising artist who is on her way and will make her own mark.

As to the Callaway originals: The title cut kicks off the disc with a colorful reading of this musical poem about the beauties of life and love “…life is one love affair, beauty is everywhere.” Some sweetly honed scat echoes the Callaway influence. “Bring Back Romance” is a plea for the way we were in searching for a gentler time, which is particularly well done. Sanges gives it a rich texture. Other standout Callaway gems include the trenchant “Perfect” (which might be one of the best love songs of the last 25 years). Another beauty called “Love and Let Love” (by Callaway with Michele Brourman) captures the essence of multi-dimensional dreaming on matters of the heart “… trust the hand that made us exactly who we are… every heart has something it must give… love is why we’re here and what we’re after; it’s the one thing that we’re born to do.” “I’ve Dreamed of You” (music: Rolf Lovland) is given a heartfelt reading. Sanges’ certainty and confidence make a fresh, pensive ballad such as “I Gaze in Your Eyes,” Callaway’s setting of a posthumously discovered Cole Porter lyric, insightful and memorable.

She also does a terrific job on evergreens like Porter’s “It’s All Right with Me,” “Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing/George David Weiss) and “Out of This World” by Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg, the writers of the aforementioned exception to the “written or recorded by Callaway” category: “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” Sanges shows a natural affinity for swing that is smooth. A perky “Twisted” (Annie Ross/Wardell Gray) is another highlight that also shows off the band in spades while the vocalist blends rapid-fire, jazz-patter touches with great humor. It’s all a loving celebration of a great artist. 

Wisely surrounded by some of today’s finest musicians, the singer has an exceptional band that includes music director/arranger/pianist John M. Cook, Dave Pietro (saxophone), Todd Isler (percussion), Laura Intravia (flute), Tom Hubbard (bass), and Sean Harkness (guitar).

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Category: Music, Music Reviews, New York City, New York City Music Reviews, Regional

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