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Avant sounds: Joi

Composers, drummers and ad men on the edge

Not every artist can flip the script without confusing fans or losing sight of who they are. But not every artist is as versatile as Joi. The Nashville-born, Atlanta-based singer/songwriter, who takes the stage at the Montreux Atlanta Music Festival this weekend, is a musical chameleon, an innovator who handily swerves in and out of jazz, blues, funk, rock and soul.

Joi says she'll lean toward laid-back during her 45-minute Montreux set, where she'll be joined by local singer Peach and partner David Wild, as well as singer Keisha Jackson and vocalist/musician Debra Killings on bass. "Since it's Montreux Jazz Festival," she says, in reference to the fest's Swiss counterpart, "I'm gonna smooth it out some. I'm gonna do some of my ballads, some new songs, some old joints."

But Joi's ability to shift gears is not restricted to the stage; it works in the studio as well. The singer's 1994 debut, The Pendulum Vibe (Limp/ERG), which featured the hypnotic "Sunshine and Rain," fell victim to label instability — so did 1998's Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome, her funky, rock-infused follow-up on Dallas Austin's then-fledgling Freeworld Records. The label collapsed, only to re-emerge later, and the album was never released.

Recently signed to Universal and looking to shed her alternative tag, Joi says the goal this time is sales and radio airplay. "The new album is still edgy, it's still me, but I think I went into this album thinking a lot more simply because I really want to sell some records. It's not like I was concentrating on writing me a pop hit; that's not really how I wanted it either. I want it to be my interpretation of how I would be on the radio."

Joi's as-yet-untitled album, out in early 2001, features production by Austin, Organized Noize's Sleepy Brown and Outkast's Andre Benjamin.

Joi performs in Piedmont Park during the Montreux Atlanta Music Festival, Sun., Sept. 3, at 5 p.m.