Harlem born Patti Austin actually had a couple unique musical careers before her 70’s and 80’s breakthroughs. She was singing at the Apollo by age 4,and had a recording contract with RCA a year later. After her career as a child star,she became a teen queen of the commercial jingles during the mid to late 60’s. During the 70’s she began her career as a backup singer for Franki Valli and The Four Seasons as well as Japanese fusion artist Yutaka’s debut album in 1978. By then,she’d already recorded two solo albums of her own in End Of The Rainbow and Havana Candy.
First time I ever heard of her was through her work with Quincy Jones in the late 70’s and early 8o’s. Big examples would be songs like “Its The Falling Love” and “Baby,Come To Me” from 1979 and 81-duetting with Michael Jackson and James Ingram respectfully. Austin has a plaintive tone and elastic vocal range. This alternating voice makes her adept in jazz,funk and pop. One of the few versatile singers with a truly distinctive style to her that I know of. One of her shinning moments was on Quincy Jones 1981 album The Dude in 1981,where she sang frequently throughout. The name of the song is “Razzamatazz”.
Greg Phillinganes,Steve Lukather and Herbie Hancock start off the song with some viruosic electric piano/guitar interaction before Jerry Hey’s horn blasts get the song going. The refrain consists of Hancock’s electric piano,Lukather’s rhythm guitar and the drum/Moog bass of Rufus’s John Robinson and David Hawk Wolinski. On the choruses,Phillinganes adds his own melodic synthesizer touch. There are three different bridges here. One showcases the horns and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion,the other reduces down to Phillinganes synth solo,and another is Lukather soloing over the refrain.
The song itself actually fades out on its second refrain. Patti Austin really gives her all on this song. This Rod Temperton composition is a very busy number,with a thick sophistifunk groove encompassing a number of powerful musical ideas. Especially its brittle,boogie funk juxtaposition of live horn arrangements,percussion and synth bass. On the second chorus,there’s an entire symphony of multi tracked Patti Austin’s singing the line “make it better with a little bit of razzamatazz”. Its a very melodic jazz/funk/post disco number whose energy level truly lives up to the exciting sound of its title.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, David Hawk Wolinski, electric piano, Greg Phillinganes, Herbie Hancock, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, post disco, Quincy Jones, rhythm guitar, Rod Temperton, Steve Luckather, synth bass
Sometimes the synergy of two instrumentalists/composers can create exceptionally powerful music in much the same way as a big band. Having both played with Stevie Wonder together as part of Wonderlove during the artists salad days? Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and guitarist Michael Sembello both took a similar directions as session people by both playing for The Jacksons/Michael Jackson one after the other. And both making solo debuts in the early 1980’s.
Greg Phillinganes was the first to make his solo debut with the Significant Gains album for Richard Perry’s Planet label in 1981. The album featured Greg working with a number of crackerjack musicians such as Paulinho Da Costa,Paul Jackson,fellow Stevie Wonder alum Ronnie Foster,Herbie Hancock and indeed Michael Sembello as well. His main collaboration with Sembello from this debut was a song called “Big Man”,which makes it’s own sort of musical statement altogether.
Opening with a bluesy scaling clavinet,Greg’s keyboard is soon joined by a closely unison guitar solo from Sembello before the songs main chorus comes in. This chorus is instrumentally built around layers of bass clavinet and electric guitar soloing accented by higher pitched melodic synth bass. On the vocal bridge,the very processed vocal of Phillinganes is accented by his own higher pitched harmonies before he vocally growls his way into a flamboyant guitar like synthesizer solo before returning to three repeated choruses of the refrain before Phillinganes declares “I won’t go back on my word at all!”
Musically and lyrically? This song bridges the time gap between Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”-both a decade apart and both by artists with whom Phillinganes had worked with. The combination of Phillinganes clavinets and Sembello’s guitars and strong bluesy composition makes this a wonderful black American take on the mechanized new wave dance/rock style of the early 1980’s. Lyrically obscure as it seems to be? The song seems to be warning the black community about despotic hucksters seeking to violently take advantaged of oppressed and misrepresented people. It’s probably the best (and likely most hidden) politically charged funk/rock fusion of the early 80’s and brings the powerful 60’s activist spirit into the new decade
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, clavinet, Funk, Funk Bass, Greg Phillinganes, Michael Jackson, Michael Sembello, New Wave, rock guitar, Stevie Wonder