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Judy Wexler: Crowded Heart

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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"Tribute," "re-imagined," "remembered," "Great American Songbook." You won't see or hear those words anywhere on Crowded Heart, Judy Wexler's fifth and best effort to date. What you will hear are 10 sublime cuts from some of the finest composers and lyricists in the game. Here Wexler revels in songs where romance and all of its kaleidoscopic intersections are the order of the day.

"Circus Life," the opener, is a samba with Wexler spinning the tale of life's modern anxieties. "Parisian Heartbreak" is pure Gallic fare with Wexler delivering the melodic and lyric arc beautifully. Alan Pasqua's melodica solo seals the meal. The title cut, "Crowded Heart" from vocalist Sinne Eeg's pen has Wexler caressing the lyric pitch-perfectly, and it offers tasty Pasqua and Larry Koonse solos. "Painted Canvas" from Gregory Porter is a shuffler, rhythmically forthright with a fine sax solo from Josh Johnson. "Stars" speaks "The night was ours..." but the tune is all Wexler's-a poetic and poignant track on which Pasqua's solo rings. "The Last Goodbye," a light bossa, is a descriptive revisit to long lost love where Wexler stories intently without sap. Bob Sheppard offers a haunting alto flute solo there. Rene Marie's"Take My Breath Away" is another bossa which features a superb Koonse solo, with Wexler's voice weakening our knees. "I Took Your Hand" is an animated selection with tempo variances, with Wexler embracing the dramatic tone of Lorraine Feather's picturesque lyrics. "It's Only Smoke" has Wexler wafting dreamily through the various tonal textures. "And We Will Fly," opens with an engaging Koonse intro that rolls into a light bossa. Wexler's superb take gives "jazz standard" gravitas to the tune. Stefanie Fife's cello soars contrapuntally with her partner Wexler's killer lyric approach and somewhat breathy take.

As one might expect from songs drawn with romance perspectives, with Crowded Heart lyrics get the spotlight and Wexler carries them with eminent grace. She is balletic light on her vocal feet, dead-on with her pitch, and lyrically smooth. She probes emotional depth and returns gems without melodrama. Sourcing this material along with co-producer Pasqua, the duo has found a musical mother lode. Wexler's supporting cast in addition to the aforementioned Pasqua, Johnson, Koonse and Sheppard is also first-call and definitely first class. Bassist Oles, drummer Hass and percussionist Serfaty are a dream team of tasteful support and intensity throughout.

While hearts may indeed be crowded, this superb and original effort from a very talented and insightful artist and her cadre has certainly found its way into ours.

Track Listing: Circus Life; Parisian Heartbreak; Crowded Heart; Painted On Canvas; Stars; The Last Goodbye; Take My Breath Away; I Took Your Hand; It's Only Smoke; And We Will Fly.

Personnel: Judy Wexler: vocals; Alan Pasqua: piano, melodica (2), whistling (1); Larry Koonse: guitar; Josh Johnson: alto saxophone; Bob Sheppard: alto flute; Stefanie Fife: cello; Darek Oles: bass; Steve Hass: drums; Aaron Serfaty: percussion.

Title: Crowded Heart | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Jewel City Jazz

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