Josephine Sanges has a superb voice. That, up till two years ago, she showcased her instrument only at church is something of a surprise. While gifted range and skilled control often dedicate themselves to higher power, Sanges’ s finesse with a world of lyrics describing seriously alternative experience and her facility with other genres are notable.
This show may also be a revelation to fans of Ann Hampton Callaway unfamiliar with her songwriting, but for a television theme song. (“The Nanny Named Fran.”) The author, who writes from the heart, is ably represented. Few artists could offer the material with these muscular vocals, jazz colors, and the clear-eyed spirituality underlying lyrics.
“Come Take My Hand” is a bossa nova. Sanges seems to sing above written notes. This iconoclastic style is rather unique and serves her well. “Music,” with Tom Hubbard’s very cool bass supplying vertebrae, has passages which soar (unstressed) like birds hitching rides on updrafts. Rhythm and mood are infectious.
The tandem “I’ve Dreamed of You” (Hampton Callaway with Rolf) and “I Gaze in Your Eyes” (Cole Porter with music by Hampton Callaway) are episodes of tenderness. Phrasing is eloquent. A small hand gesture and raised shoulder say it all.
“Two And Four” about “getting” jazz, is cleverly framed by Sanges beginning in her choir robe. With a little instruction by Pianist/MD John M. Cook and Hubbard (both wry), what’s operatic gradually gives way to accented, rhythmic swing: Goodbye to my square days/Cause I know the score/You do it on the two and four…The song ramps right into Irving Mills/Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” replete with interjected hallelujah ! Sanges loosens up during this irrepressible tune.
“It’s All Right with Me” (Cole Porter) and Hampton Callaway’s “Bring Back Romance” are memorable for low key, distinctly original arrangements. Sanges savors feelings. The first elongates lyrics landing like a falling leaf. Piano is filigree. The second is evocatively breathy; bass pulses, piano flickers.
The beautifully rendered, palpably sincere, brotherhood ballad “At the Same Time” and “It’s Hip to Be Happy” buoyed by Cook’s background vocal, bass and scat, are demonstrably characteristic of Hampton Callaway. Sanges is appealingly carbonated.
“Perfect” ends the show backed by crystal wind chimes (piano) and bowed bass. Sigh.
Caveats: “Lady Be Good” (George and Ira Gershwin), custom designed for satin-swathed chorines, doesn’t for a moment sound like someone asking something of his/her lover. “Lullaby of Birdland” (George David Weiss/George Shearing), remarkable for its vocal, alas speeds by like a brakeless train, sacrificing attitude. On the one hand, sambas are just a tad heavy and too physically still. On the other, minimal gestures keep focus where it belongs; the lady has presence.
Josephine Sanges needs to learn to trust us. Numbers in which expression subtly emerges as personal stand out. Warm, economic patter somewhat compensates. With an instinctual toe in jazz, I anticipate her growing freer with riffs. A worthy, entertaining show by a talented newcomer, more savvy than her experience.
Original lyrics penned by MD/Pianist John M. Cook are seamless and clever, eschewing phrases of usually cloying appreciation (to the tribute subject)
All songs by Ann Hampton Callaway unless otherwise attributed.
Photos by Sheree Sano
Josephine Sanges: to Ann with love
Sunday February 19, March 12, April 28
Directed by Deb Berman
Don’t Tell Mama
343 West 46th Street