Judy Wexler: What I See (2013)
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One of the deepest relationships in jazz blossomed on the West Coast in the 1950s, when singer June Christy and arranger Pete Rugolo combined their gifts on numerous albums. Christy supplied the voice and the heart, which Rugolo set off to perfection with exquisite, often surprising arrangements. The deep understanding between the two artists was particularly evident in their choice of songs; both had an eye for the unusual and the neglected, as well as lyrics that conveyed emotions of a more complex hue.
This legendary synergy is mirrored in the modern-day relationship between West Coast singer Judy Wexler and arranger Jeff Colella, a bond that comprises the heart of Wexler's excellent fourth album, What I See. Colella, who spent almost two decades as musical director for the great Lou Rawls, provides arrangements and piano and also co-produced the album with Wexler. The rest of the band consists of Wexler's working trio of Chris Colangelo on bass and Steve Hass on drums, supplemented by a host of fine West Coast musicians who add an enchanting array of colors throughout the eleven songs.
Gems include the album opener "Tomorrow Is Another Day," a swinging tune full of passion and charm. Wexler's voice is consistently pleasing, warmly fluid with lovely turnings and rich pockets. The band offers up a delectable, effervescent swing, including a sparkling piano solo by Colella and a sultry bass clarinet solo from Bob Sheppard. "They Say It's Spring" is a buoyant song with more of the group's deliciously tasteful swing. Wexler's phrasing is wonderfully clear and conversational; listening to her sing is often like talking with a wise friend. The tune also has a delightful guitar solo by Larry Koonse, full of chiming joy and clarity. And it's great to hear the Louis Armstrong classic "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," which Wexler infuses with lively spirit. Here Colella's piano invokes an old-timey energy, and Ron Stout provides, appropriately, a graceful brass solo.
"A Certain Sadness" is a poignant song about a couple gently unraveling at the seams. Wexler does a beautiful job conveying the lyric's tender wistfulness, again displaying marvelously direct, conversational phrasing. Sheppard offers a lovely alto flute solo, with the instrument's lilting melancholy echoing the tune's emotional hue. "The Long Goodbye" is a song about missed connections and regret, with Wexler conveying an intimate knowledge of life's ironies without being world-weary or cynical. Scott Whitfield's trombone mirrors these feelings perfectly, offering yet another example of Colella's unerring instinct for using just the right instrumentation to support the mood of the lyrics.
Surely the ocean and the light and the lifestyle somehow combine to suffuse West Coast jazz with a very particular magic. What I Said is a superb example of the continuing legacy of this brand of jazz, a tradition started by pioneers such as Christy and Rugolo and carried on by Wexler, Colella, and this fine gathering of musicians.
Track Listing: Tomorrow Is Another Day; The Moon Is Made Of Gold; Convince Me; They Say It's Spring; A Certain Sadness; The Long Goodbye; Just For Now; Follow; Another Time, Another Place; A Kiss To Build A Dream On; Laughing At Life.
Personnel: Judy Wexler: vocals; Jeff Colella: piano; Larry Koonse: guitar, ukulele; Chris Colangelo; bass; Steve Hass: drums; Ron Stout: flugelhorn, trumpet; Bob Sheppard: bass clarinet, alto flute; Scott Whitfield: trombone; Billy Hulting: percussion.
Record Label: Jazzed Media