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A space holder. Text Graphic: 'Powerssound - Wow! Patti Salutes Ella'.

by Bob Powers

G21 Music Writer

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g21 #336:
Holiday 2002 Special Edition


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Bob Powers
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MARIETTA, OH, USA - Patti Austin has had a successful career as a pop singer, but listening to her new album, "For Ella" (Playboy Jazz/Concord) puts on display a new star who should find favor with those who adore the solid sounds of the glory days in show business.

Critics have respected Patti Austin for years, and in the last few weeks this critic has kept her new album, "For Ella" in heavy play. In listening to the CD at least a dozen times, I find it seems better with every twist of the turntable. Austin has created a package of fabulous music from some of the premium writers across two centuries.

Ella Fitzgerald was unique in the song business. From her first hit "A Tisket, a Tasket" in the 1930s to her work just prior to her death, Ella was one of the best pop/jazz singers in history. Austin doesn't attempt to copy the Fitzgerald manner. That would be disastrous; no one could hope to duplicate that which was the Fitzgerald .

What Austin has done is to duplicate the feelings in the impressive package, without trying to mimic Fitzgerald's vocal sound.

Austin has been in the warbling business since her teen-age years, working for several major recording companies. She received plaudits for albums released in the '70s by the CTI label. Later she continued her career with several companies in a row.

Photo of Patti Austin.She recorded "For Ella" in 2001 after hearing the WDR band and orchestra. The combination of a kick-ass big band and a solidly constructed strings section that sounds at peace with the wonderful arraignments make "For Ella" a spectacular success. Austin has never sounded more at home, unafraid of the chore of singing with a big band and the romantic aura contributed by lush strings.

The album opens with "Too Close for Comfort," an evergreen that never sounded better. Next comes a contemplative version of "Honeysuckle Rose," including some scatting done with full enthusiasm.

"You'll Have to Swing It" is best known by the title of "Mr. Paganini." She never sounded more at home with a lyric. Next up is a lush version of one of my personal favorites, "Our Love Is Here to Stay," from the immortal team of George and Ira Gershwin. Later comes another Gershwin winner, "But Not For Me." (Did the Gershwins ever write anything but smash hits?)

Duke Ellington's glorious "Satin Doll" gets a sizzling reading by Patti, who sounds comfortable with the Gershwin songbook.(Hint! Hint!). Winding toward an end, Austin does full justice to "The Man I Love," another Gershwin gem.

After "Hearing Ella Sing," Austin brings the program to a wonderful finish with spectacular scatting during her brilliant reading of "How High the Moon."

"For Ella" deserves to sell well for as long as great music has an audience. You will do yourself an immense favor by grabbing a copy.

Keely Smith Swings Basie

Once Keely Smith was known as the blank-faced singer with the comic jazz band headed by her husband Louis Prima. Smith received a warm welcome from music fans with her ability to make any song sound like her own. She never was less that excellent and sometimes was downright brilliant.

The years have passed, Prima is long dead and Keely Smith has been resurrected in the music business with a couple of wonderful albums on the Concord label. The latest is "Keely Swings Basie-Style." It contains 18 goodies and shows off Keely's distinctive voice in every selection. If you loved the Basie Band and adored pretty Keely, this album should hit the mark.

The titles inside include "April in Paris," "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," and "Mood Indigo." She's backed by that band of rhythm geniuses making up the Basie band, but there's also 21 strings making lovely music on the slower tempo and romantic charts.

Keely Smith will continue to twirl on your home stereo equipment for a long time to come.

Brazilian Darling

I've never been a follower of the road hacked out by Tania Maria. If fact there was time in my life when I actively disliked the Brazilian songstress/pianist. But those ancient opinions vanished when I started to listen to her latest album, "Live at the Blue Note" (Concord Picante).

This album, recorded at the famed nightclub in New York City, shows the native of Brazil at her best. She seems totally comfortable with the music she created and the enthusiasm of the crowd makes her work extra hard at delivering a fine performance.

The recording opens with a sprightly version of "Funky Tambourine," a clever tune written by the artist. The album notes contain a description apropos of the Tania Maria style, "queen of funky jazz samba," which seems quite an accurate appellation.

The singer/pianist receives great assistance by her band, consisting of Luis Agusto Cavani on drums; Carlos Werneck on guitar bass; Lazlo Augusto Cavani on drums, and Mastre Carnerio on percussion. The beat's the thing on all selections, which seem performed with fantastic attention to the beat and the special vocal qualities of the leader's unusual voice.

There doesn't seem to be a special "message" lurking in these compositions but in working with four dazzling musicians, Tania Maria receives support and has time to sing with the words in mind. Grant you, I don't understand the Portuguese, but Tania Maria's voice tells me everything, with no language problem interfering.

Next Time Around

Next issue will require some catching up with new releases, especially from the masterful Fantasy family of labels from Berkeley, CA. I'll also write about the final album from the wonderful Rosemary Clooney, recorded last November in Honolulu, It's a special disc that everyone who enjoys the work of Rosemary should definitely add to his or her stacks of Clooney goodies. I followed Rosemary's career for more than 20 years and found her to be the absolutely nicest person I ever met from the world of show business.
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Bob Powers always is interested in hearing from record distributors who deal in jazz, rock, folk, and anything that's good. For instructions on getting your album reviewed, contact him at oldbob@localnet.com.


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