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Avant Gershwin

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Album Review

A staple of pop, R&B and jazz over the past thirty years, this impossibly versatile singer's 16 album career during that time rolls like a fascinating journey through those genres while also drawing wisdom and inspiration on occasion from The Great American Songbook. Avant Gershwin, Patti Austin's shimmering hour-plus tour de force through both familiar and obscure — but always intriguing — selections from the catalog of George & Ira Gershwin, is, for the record, not the first time she's dazzled with their songs. Her 1998 masterpiece The Real Me included "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me." And her 2002 tribute album For Ella included "Love Is Here to Stay," "But Not for Me" and "The Man I Love." Recorded live before an audience at the Kölner Philharmonic in Köln, and Westfalenpark Dortmund, Germany over two evenings in 2006, Avant Gershwin is in many ways an extension of the Fitzgerald tribute; both find her performing with the vibrant, brassy and swinging backing of the WDR Big Band. Its centerpieces are the "Overture/Gershwin Medley" — a twelve-minute, moodswinging romp through the big rhythm songs, "Clap Yo' Hands," "Fascinating Rhythm" and "I Got Rhythm" — and the dramatic 17-minute "Porgy and Bess Medley," which casts Austin as the consummate musical theater performer. The latter begins with a gentle orchestral overture and a tender read of "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing" and a lush twist on the familiar "Summertime" before shifting into full swing mode on "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" and back to port for the start of "It Ain't Necessarily So" ahead of a theatrical finish. Beyond right on the money arrangements and Austin's always colorful phrasing, perhaps the most inspired element of the project is her impeccable song choice. Rather than settle for the songs everyone's heard ad nauseum, with the exception of "Swanee," she puts her own stamp on the lovelorn "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," the witty and delightful "Who Cares"and "Funny Face," and the heartbreaking "Love Walked In/Love Is Sweeping the Country." "Lady Be Good" provides a rousing, bold and brassy finish, with Austin doing the kind of sizzlin' scat that would do her idol proud. Who could ask for anything more? This CD was nominated for a Grammy award in 2007 for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Customer Reviews

Masterpiece de resistance

Patti Austin is probably best known for some slick 1980s Quincy Jones-produced studio-recorded duets with James Ingram, as well as having done studio work for everyone from James Brown to Steely Dan, and Paul Simon to Michael Jackson--the list of artists to whom she has lent her talents and hits to which she has contributed vocals is truly astounding. (Not to mention her work as a jingle singer--if you're old enough to remember the Meow Mix commericals from the 1970s...THAT was Patti Austin too. "Meow-meow-meow-meow, meow-meow-meow-meow, " etc..... ) And while it may seem a paradox that Patti Austin's freshest, most original contribution to music will come in performing songs as old as these on "Avant Gershwin", Austin and arranger Michael Abene have deconstructed these songs and stitched them back together into something modern and relevant. The resulting Grammy-award wining "Avant Gershwin" is the product of a truly amazing singer at the very top of her artisitc ability, backed by a first rate jazz orchestra in the WDR Big Band.

Patti Austin has said that she sees herself as more of an 'imitator' than an 'innovator', but with all due deference to her, i would disagree. On Avant Gershwin, Patti Austin is a Renovator with a capital R, dusting off some older (and some lesser-known) Gershwin tunes and infusing them with new life--part big band, part jazz, with a dash of live wriggling, writhing funk that only singer with Austin's 50+ years of performing experience and exquisite taste can deliver. The whole album from start-to-finish is a treasure of thoughtully selected, creatively arranged songs sung with feeling, intelligence and wit. What Austin does with the ancient "Swanee" is fresher and funkier than anything played on radio today. The fact that the album was recorded live in front of a live audience only heightens its energy--few singers seem to benefit more from a live audience than Patti Austin. When she steps out of the recording booth and onto the live stage, she shows off a set of pipes and a measure of grit, as well as an intellect and a sense of humor, that you might never suspect from her smooth, controlled studio recordings. Do yourself a favor--buy this album to see a singer's singer singing her best.

I've listened to this album at least once a week ever since buying it more than 4 years ago, and it hasn't lost a thing. It's the one recording I'd take for a year on a desert island. It's that good. Here's hoping for at least one more from her just like it.

What a showman!

I saw Ms. Austin perform this album last night in Los Angeles (2-13-09) and was thrilled enough to buy the album today! A must for any fan of Gershwin, and this new fan of Patti Austin.


Born: August 10, 1950 in New York, NY

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A professional since the age of five, Patti Austin was a protégé of Dinah Washington and Sammy Davis, Jr. A 1969 single for United Artists titled "Family Tree" cracked the R&B Top 50. Austin cut her debut LP, End of a Rainbow, for Creed Taylor's CTI label in 1976, followed by Havana Candy in 1977 and Body Language in 1980. She sang lead vocals for Japanese koto player Yutaka Yokokura on "Love Light" in 1978, did a duet with Michael Jackson on "It's the Falling in Love" for Off the Wall, and sang...
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Top Albums and Songs by Patti Austin

Avant Gershwin, Patti Austin
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