Patti Austin,
For Ella
(Concord, 2002)

Patti Austin, Patrick Williams and Gregg Field have created in For Ella a dazzling tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, one of the greatest jazz/pop vocalists of all time. Austin's vocal performance is stunning; instead of trying to mimic Ella, she has absorbed Ella's vocal style into her own voice, and the result is an amazing synthesis of the two singers. This disc is sonically stunning as well, with production by drummer Field that allows the sound literally to sizzle with incredible power and clarity. Equally responsible for the sonic pyrotechnics is Williams, who arranged and conducted the WDR Big Band with arrangements and performances that are perfect for these songs.

Pop the disc into your player and "Too Close for Comfort" will immediately knock your socks off with a big band extravaganza that sounds like what you might imagine the best big bands of the period might sound like, captured with today's state of the art recording technology. The horns punctuate the song in the most amazing sound quality, they literally leap out of the speakers then dissolve into a silky smooth bass and cymbal riff. You could demo your sound system with this stuff.

"Honeysuckle Rose" starts out all cool and smooth with voice, bass, drums and cymbals, with the big band coming in right on time later in the song, sounding like the cream of all the big band talent that ever worked the genre. Signature song "You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)" also starts out nice and smooth with a top-flight string section. Again the big band kicks in later, and Austin gets to belt the slowed down last verse. Who knew that big band jazz/pop could sound this great?

George and Ira Gershwin are represented here on three tunes; this version of "Our Love is Here to Stay" could be the best rendition I've ever heard. It's slow and sultry with a nice muted horn solo and perfectly subdued backing by the big band. I might have preferred another song in it's place, but "A Tisket A Tasket" is a unquestionably an Ella signature tune which is done total justice by Austin's interpretation, and ya just gotta love that big band.

Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" has a reserved beginning section that is followed by a bluesy, almost gospel belting middle, then switches back to reserved for the finish; the vocal changes are astonishing. On "Satin Doll," Austin excels with vocals that are strong, confident and powerful, while totally capturing the nuances of Ella's vocal styling -- most impressive. Along with 11 numbers from the huge Fitzgerald repertoire, there is one new original tune, "Hearing Ella Sing," which pays lyrical tribute to nicely complement the Ella classics.

For Ella succeeds on every possible level, and in the process not only pays Ella Fitgerald the ultimate tribute, but stands as a major milestone in the careers of Patti Austin and everyone else involved with this project. In the liner notes, Austin says "The process of memorizing these vocals brought me closer and closer to the soul of Ella's awesome talent. She was teaching me things I never knew before about singing. The immense power of her talent lives on in her music and I hope that I will be able to help keep her memory alive in some small way with this recording." Mission accomplished.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 14 June 2003

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