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Patti Austin

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The most stylish of the group here is Avant Gershwin, Patti Austin's tribute to George and Ira Gershwin. The brothers contributed dozens of hits to the American songbook, including the eight Austin does here. "Love Walked In" and "Lady Be Good" are both especially nice, but the "Porgy and Bess Medley" is the standout cut. At over 17 minutes, it hits all the show's highlights, giving listeners a really satisfying dose of sass and wit, grace and tenderness. Austin captures the musicality of the Gershwins' tunes, making them seem timely without losing the timelessness of the songs. Lush, without being overproduced, the CD is a quiet treasure.

Although she gets plenty of accolades, Austin is still perhaps one of the most overlooked jazz singers performing today. Her range and finesse put her head and shoulders above more commercially successful folks like Dianne Reeves and Diana Krall. This is partly due to Austin's dedication to the essence of the music (she underplays her considerable chops and lets the song take center stage) and partly due to her choices. Having just come off a tour of symphonies with an Ella Fitzgerald show, Austin went right back in the studio in Germany to record Avant Gershwin. Both Ella and the Gershwin brothers are a little old-fashioned for today's audiences (too much thinking involved). Thankfully, Austin makes her musical choices based on the song rather than current styles.

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