The Joy of Patti Austin

After more than 50 years of making music, the R&B singer still sounds excited about the possibilities.

By Juba Kalamka Oct 22, 2009

October 22, 2009

avant gershwin
(Rendezvous Entertainment)

Patti Austin signed her first recording contract with RCA Records at age 5 in 1954. Since then, the nine-time Grammy nominee has seen all there is to see in the music business. Best known through her string of pop and R&B hits on Quincy Jones’s Qwest Records from the late 1970s through the 1980s, she was at the same time a well-respected jazz singer and highly regarded for her live performances in general. avant gershwin continues in that tradition, with Austin’s always-unique approach making this set of standards as fresh as ever.

Producer Michael Abene (who has worked with Maynard Ferguson and Mercer Ellington, among others) highlights Austin’s impossibly sharp phrasing and intonation on the album. Recorded in 2006 during two audience-attended sessions with WDR Big Band Köln, avant is both relaxed and urgent. Austin gilds the edges of lyrics at just the right moments (“Overture/Gershwin Medley”), while floating and swaying through others (“Swanee”). It’s pretty amazing to hear an artist sounding happy and renewed after 55 years in the business. Austin’s work on avant gershwin pulls off the feat of sounding like a veteran who just came on the scene—incredibly polished and précised, but still excited at the possibilities waiting around the corner. 

Juba Kalamka is a founding member of the queer hip-hop group Deep Dickollective and creator of the label Sugartruck Recordings.
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