After affiliations with CTI (1976-80), Qwest (1981-88), and GRP (1990-1994), Patti Austin, as she passed the age of 50, seemed to have moved permanently from the soul jazz divisions of major labels to independents like Concord Jazz (for whom she made In and Out of Love in 1998) and even more modest recording affiliations (her last album, Street of Dreams, was handled by Platinum Entertainment). It is therefore something of a surprise that she has landed back at Quincy Jones' Warner Bros.-distributed Qwest label for her 15th album, On the Way to Love. It's also good news, since a singer of Austin's talent (and there aren't many of those) deserves the exposure possible through major-label distribution. The question, of course, is what sort of commercial compromises it entails. The answer is that Qwest's vision for Austin, one she seems to endorse enthusiastically, is to take her right back to the kind of quiet storm/adult contemporary/smooth jazz approach that characterized most of her earlier Qwest releases in the 1980s. Paul Brown, Boney James' producer, has been brought in, and, not surprisingly, the saxophonist turns up on "If You Really Need Me Now," a track that also features Austin's old duet partner (and Qwest labelmate) James Ingram. Siedah Garrett, another Qwest stalwart, co-wrote the title song, and Austin herself contributed to the writing of three songs, among them "Love's Been Kind to Me Lately," an attractive pop song that, like many here, may be more welcome on contemporary jazz stations than anywhere else. The songs indulge in street argot here and there, but this is an upscale effort for the most part, music for middle-aged Terry McMillan fans who aren't Waiting to Exhale anymore, but still don't want to work up a sweat. It's not bad, but Austin can do much better.
On the Way to Love Review
by William Ruhlmann