How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Vocalist Judy Wexler has a multifaceted background, including performing in a theater collective, appearing on the TV show Frasier, and studying psychology. Wexler has been involved with jazz throughout her life, including years of studying the piano, but after her mother's death in 1999 Wexler decided to take the plunge and start performing. And thank goodness she did: Wexler is a breath of fresh air, a clear, clean voice that imbues life into every song she enters.
In 2005 Wexler received strong reviews for her first CD, Easy on the Heart, and now her follow-up is garnering accolades for the Los Angeles-based singer. It's easy to hear whythe thirteen songs are entirely appealing, whether joyful, melancholy, or mischievous. One of Wexler's virtues is her instinct for interesting songs; like fellow West-coast singer June Christy, Wexler has an ear for unusual tunes that convey mixed emotions. Consider Blossom Dearie's "Bye Bye Country Boy," where Wexler nails the song's intriguing mix of carelessness and regret. Other interesting choices include the decades-old pop song "Spooky," which Wexler transforms into an enjoyable jazz concoction, backed by Gilbert Castellanos' sinuous trumpet. And who would have anticipated that "If I Only Had a Brain" would transform so easily into a lilting jazz number? Wexler also shines on more familiar jazz fare, particularly Sonny Rollins' "Pent Up House," where she handles the song's shifting bop lines with perfect ease. Her interpretation of Elvis Costello's haunting "Almost Blue" is a fearless dive into the song's poignant center, and her voice is true and sure on the CD opener "Comes Love."
Wexler has a wealth of gifts, which elegantly unfold over the course of Dreams & Shadows. Yet she never overplays her assets; she is always sensitive to what each song needs, and this combined with her sincere connection to the lyrics makes Wexler an impressive talent.
Track Listing: Comes Love; Dreams & Shadows (Delilah); In Love In Vain; Photograph; Spooky; If I Only Had A Brain; Almost Blue; Bye Bye Country Boy; Pent Up House; One Less Bell To Answer; Don't Be On The Outside; Summer Is Gone; Life's A Lesson (Blue Daniel).
Personnel: Judy Wexler: vocals; Alan Pasqua: piano; Jeff Colella: piano; Darek Oles: double-bass; Steve Hass: drums; Joe LaBarbera: drums; Bob Sheppard: bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Gilbert Castellanos: trumpet; Tollak Ollestad: harmonica; Stefanie Fife: cello.