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Judy Wexler: What I See

Dan Bilawsky By

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Vocalist Judy Wexler is more than a mere singer of songs. She's an actress, mood painter, song archaeologist and vocalist par excellence, and those designations shouldn't be taken as independent virtues; they all merge in her marvelous musical pursuits.

When I See is Wexler's fourth album, but it only took two—Easy On The Heart (Jazzopolis, 2005) and Dreams & Shadows (Jazzed Media, 2008)— to establish her as one of the most highly respected vocal artists on the West Coast. She furthered her sterling reputation with the all-encompassing Under A Painted Sky (Jazzed Media, 2011), and she's likely to do the same with this one; it's a real beaut.

What I See finds Wexler covering a lot of ground again, as she moves from Benny Carter to John Williams to King Pleasure. She's in familiar company, working with some longtime colleagues like multi-reedist Bob Sheppard, drummer Steve Hass and pianist/arranger Jeff Colella, but she continually avoids the familiar in all other aspects of her work; she doesn't radically reinterpret anything or purposely pounce on never-before-heard numbers, but she also doesn't tread over well-worn ground.

Wexler kicks off the album with a comfortably swinging take on Pleasure's "Tomorrow Is Another Day." Her reading of this better-things-are-on-the-horizon statement is neither depressed nor sunny; it's matter-of-factly honest about the topic at hand. A similar sense of clarity and truthfulness shines through on every number. Wexler's acting credentials no doubt help her in this regard, but it never sounds like she's acting. When Judy Wexler sings a song, it becomes her song and her story, period. She's more than convincing on "Convince Me," a slow jam-of-a-song if ever there was one, and her voice rises to the occasion on "The Moon Is Made Of Gold." The mere mention of spring—on "They Say It's Spring" and "Just For Now"—brings a blooming quality to her voice, and she carries "Follow" forward in her own inimitable fashion.

The A-list musicians that join Wexler on this journey also do their part to make this a magical listen. Sheppard is ever-impressive, delivering the goods on bass clarinet ("Tomorrow Is Another Day") and adding warmth with his alto flute ("A Certain Sadness"), and Ron Stout adds a touch of brass beauty to the proceedings ("The Moon Is Made Of Gold"). Colella and guitarist Larry Koonse match Wexler in the sensitivity department and prove to be the instrumental MVPs on the project.

What I See, much like Wexler's prior album, is a marvel of sincerity and beauty.

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.

Title: What I See | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Jazzed Media

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