UNDER A PAINTED SKY
Downbeat by John Ephland
“Judy Wexler’s Under a Painted Sky (****) serves as a kind of soundtrack to a movie waiting to be made. Wexler dips into French with the lovely “Avec Le Temps.” She plays the tourist with a rare cover of Egberto Gismonti’s dreamy “Cafe.” Another song with a Latin feel that speaks of longing is Abbey Lincoln’s “And How I Hoped For Your Love.” Wexler’s song choices are unique, and her take with a small group sound intimate. The album closes with a rare cover of Gary McFarland’s “Sack Full Of Dreams.”
JazzTimes by Christopher Loudon
“Perhaps it’s her training as an actress, but there’s a marvelous clarity about Judy Wexler, both in terms of her immaculate phrasing and intonation and in her ability to strip a song, any song, to its bare essence, fully capturing its spirit and soul without an ounce of pretense or affectation. Her vocal disposition is naturally sunny and expansive, rather like the perennially underappreciated Doris Day, which doesn’t preclude Wexler from effectively shading heartbreakers like Abbey Lincoln’s “And How I Hoped for Your Love.”
Lincoln is one of a handful of heroes whom Wexler salutes throughout Under a Painted Sky. Commemorated too are Blossom Dearie, Shirley Horn and Jeri Southern with, respectively, a tender “Don’t Wait Too Long,” a perspicacious “The Great City” and a sly “An Occasional Man.” But the most intriguing nod is to Carmen McRae, with the gorgeously melancholy “Last Time for Love,” an obscure McRae composition that richly deserves such adroit recrudescence. Additionally, Wexler re-imagines the decades-old Johnny Mathis hit “Wonderful Wonderful” as a carefree ode to joy, snuggles “Till There Was You” in folds of sweet satisfaction, deftly navigates the cool curves of “Whisper Not” and closes with a stunningly tranquil reading of Gary McFarland’s “Sack Full of Dreams.”
All About Jazz by Dan Bilawsky
“Few singers would dare dive into music associated with Johnny Mathis, Carmen McRae, Abbey Lincoln and the 1962 film, The Music Man, on the same album; even fewer would be able to pull it off as vocalist Judy Wexler does on Under A Painted Sky. Wexler possesses a voice for the ages, and puts it to good use on a dozen delicious numbers that cover myriad moods and spotlight the stellar instrumentalists in her band.
Wexler’s prior releases — Easy On The Heart (Rhombus, 2005) and Dreams And Shadows (Jazzed Media, 2008) — were elevated by classy arrangements and pianistic underpinnings from pianist Alan Pasqua, and this partnership continues to bear fruit on this project. Pasqua paints pictures of a sunny nature (“Wonderful Wonderful”), crafts spine-tingling settings (“Avec Le Temps”) and directs swinging scenes that delight in every way (“The Great City” and “Whisper Not”), leaving Wexler free to fully explore the possibilities that reside within each one of these gems.
Wexler’s vocals are ebullient and enthusiastic on “Wonderful Wonderful,” as the album gets underway, but she isn’t all sunshine and splendor. She deals in flirty and sensual singing on “An Occasional Man,” delivers enthralling vocals of a haunting nature with “Avec Le Temps,” touches on the ups-and-downs in the game of love during “And How I Hoped For Your Love,” and utters a wise warning about getting sucked into the quicksand of New York’s social scene with “The Great City.”
While Wexler needs no help selling any of these songs, the instrumentalists add volumes to each piece, as they mirror the moods that are established through the arrangements and vocals. Tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer adds some grit to “The Great City,” Bob Sheppard’s soprano saxophone swoops and soars with a fine balance between grace and gusto on “Till There Was You,” and Walt Fowler’s flugelhorn emphasizes the dream-like state of “Cafe.” Pasqua and guitarist Larry Koonse blend well, whether dealing with Brazilian-laced music (“And How I Hoped For Your Love”) or songs of peace and hope (“Sack Full Of Dreams”), and the bass and drums team of Darek Oles and Steve Hass has a terrific hookup in virtually every stylistic setting.
While both of Wexler’s previous albums were outstanding displays of her vocal talent, Under A Painted Sky is her best yet — the third time truly is the charm.”
Jazzreview.com by John Gilbert
“Judy Wexler looms large in the relatively small world of jazz vocalists, and this recording, Under a Painted Sky, will certainly attest to that. Wexler is accompanied by some of the most talented musicians in the jazz idiom, a perfect assemblage of formidable artists to complete this musical tableau. On “And I Hoped For Your Love,” Judy Wexler lays it all on the line as she interprets the lyrics to this song of sorrow with her soul bared. Alan Pasqua adds his magical touch to an already elegant tune. With “An Occasional Man,” the track radiates sexuality in a clever way, and Judy Wexler is in top form. Walt Fowler’s solo is a study in a perfect marriage of horn and vocal articulation. On “Don’t Wait Too Long,” Wexler describes this song as poignant and longing, and that certainly expresses it perfectly in this story of ache and resignation, as this artist describes it. The track that will get your attention is “Last Time For Love,” as it sure did for me. As matter of fact, it might be the story of my life. Pasqua opens matters with his defining touch; he comps like no other. The lyrics to this song are so thought-provoking that one’s mood is immediately transported to another dreamy place. Judy Wexler’s inclusion of this tune is a choice wisely made. Larry Koonse is heard throughout with unparalleled musicianship. Koonse adds much to this album.
I have never heard Judy Wexler in finer form. As mentioned, there is a paucity of genuine jazz singers, and this vocalist is to be included as a rising star in this limited group. This recording should be in the true Jazzophiles collection — it gets no better!”
LIVE PERFORMANCE – International Review of Music by Norton Wright
Judy Wexler’s Jazz and Wistful Romance Warm Vitello’s
“Judy Wexler, a diminutive 4’10” package of big singing talent wow’d a rapt and sold-out audience at Vitello’s on Saturday night reprising all twelve songs on her latest CD, Under A Painted Sky. It was an emotionally moving evening, for no contemporary songstress does jazz takes on wistful or unrequited love stories like Judy. And her choice of material was both extraordinarily well researched and brave; this Vitello’s evening was not for those expecting a usual boppy romp through the Great American Song Book.
“How High The Moon” was nowhere to be found. Rather, Judy got to us early with Abbey Lincoln’s achingly beautiful composition “And How I Hoped For Your Love,” a gem rarely heard and recounting the poignant tale of love found and then suddenly lost… Soon after, there was a bluesy song by long-forgotten composer/lyicist Sunny Skylar in which an older woman longing for her younger lover, wistfully nudges him on with her plea “Don’t Wait Too Long.”
You are the summer and I am the autumn
Don’t wait too long
Your song’s beginning while mine’s nearly sung
Don’t wait too long
At which point the house realized that it was in for a night of unique jazz and drama. Judy’s selection of songs may occasionally get you weepy, especially if you’re in love — or were once but no longer.
Calling on her early career skills as a stage and TV actress, Judy explores lyrics like a screenwriter finding the heart in his/her screenplay’s dialog — and the story emerges: words and jazz music combined to move the human heart. This Vitello’s evening was like going to the movies at a Laemmle Theater for stories of substance intimately and touchingly told.
And part of Judy’s storytelling was her superb quintet, Alan Pasqua (piano & arrangements), Bob Sheppard (soprano & tenor saxes), Larry Koonse (guitar), Darek Oles (bass), and Steve Hass (drums). There is such confidence and patience in this band, they play together seamlessly, give one another space to solo, and they support and meld with Judy as only special friends can do. The night’s performance, a tad long at 1 hour and 40 minutes of demanding, almost non-stop singing, was musically whole and satisfying: compelling material, Judy’s warm vocal style, and a quintet that was great to listen to whether backing her or soloing on its own.
Interesting to note the difference between Judy’s live performance at Vitello’s and listening to the same songs on her just-released Under A Painted Sky CD. Her live, Vitello’s performance moved quickly. At ease and comfy with this jazz cabaret crowd, she leavened the evening with some well-selected mood changers like Shirley Horn’s up-tempo “The Great City” with its urgent “Killer Joe”-evoking, piano opening. And her playful lyric about skinny dipping on a tropical Pacific isle while waiting for “An Occasional Man” was a hoot.
But do take your time listening to Judy’s CD – all of it – in more leisurely fashion to fully experience emotionally-layered lyrics that merit many, many, many repeated hearings — much like looking at Picasso’s paintings and finding something new every time. Get this Judy Wexler CD and continue discovering — and thanks to Vitello’s for showcasing live versions of the music on the CD so well.
Curating L.A.by Andrew Gilbert
Jazz Pick of the Week — Judy Wexler at Vitello’s
“Not to complain, but jazz writers are regularly besieged by press releases comparing the latest young singer to Ella, Sarah and Dinah, hype that always seems to accompany a CD by a winsome vocalist with a pellucid tone and bland, unformed musical personality.
One of the most memorable recent exceptions to this rule was Easy on the Heart, the startlingly mature 2005 debut by Judy Wexler. It wasn’t just her impeccable technique, persuasive sense of swing and lustrous, fine-grained voice. What made her stand out was the incisive musical intelligence she applied to a magpie repertoire ranging from Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern to Oscar Brown Jr., Bob Dylan and Abbey Lincoln.
Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles-based Wexler was hardly an ingenue. She came to jazz after decades of work as an actress and years of study as a pianist, and everything she sings is marked by the kind of emotional insight that can only be gleaned through life experience. Lavishly praised by critics, the album immediately established the previously unknown Wexler as one of the most compelling new singers on the scene.
“I felt validated, and I knew this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” says Wexler, who celebrates the release of a fantastic new album Under A Painted Sky (Jazzed Media) Saturday at Vitello’s in Studio City. “I love singing, both the physical act of singing and the communication, and I think the acting has helped me with the interpretation of lyrics.”
Another reason Wexler’s debut made such a splash was her superlative cast of accompanists, led by the brilliant pianist Alan Pasqua. While he spent much of the 1970s and 80s backing rock stars like Bob Dylan, Carlos Santana, John Fogerty, and Elton John, Pasqua is an exquisite post-bop stylist who was drawn to Wexler by her interesting repertoire and creative process. He’s an essential contributor to Under A Painted Sky as a player and arranger, and he’ll be on hand Saturday, along with a distilled version of the CD’s stellar cast, including ace guitarist Larry Koonse, incisive bassist Darek Oles, supremely versatile drummer Steve Hass (best known in jazz circles for his long tenure with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane), and well-traveled saxophone master Bob Sheppard.
“Judy is open to ideas, whether in the arrangement or the song itself,” Pasqua wrote in an email. “She is always trying to elevate her performance to the next level.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Wexler graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in the mid-70s with a double major in theater and psychology and moved up to San Francisco to join the city’s vibrant alternative theater scene. Living up the street from North Beach’s storied 1970s jazz club Keystone Korner, she soaked up the music with her jazz-fan husband.
They relocated to Los Angeles in the early 80s in search of better acting opportunities. She landed a few choice roles, like an early “Frasier” episode that drew on his “Cheers” back story (“I still get residuals from that,” Wexler says). But more and more her attention turned toward music.
She studied jazz piano with Terry Trotter, and while she eventually decided she was never going to attain the fluency she needed to accompany herself, her keyboard training informs her decisions as a singer. She honed her improvisational sensibility at the Stanford Jazz Workshop with Madeline Eastman and Kurt Elling, and gradually developed an approach inspired by singular jazz singers like Blossom Dearie, Carmen McRae, Irene Krall, Annie Ross, and Abbey Lincoln.
“I really try to learn from Shirley Horn, her use of space and material,” Wexler says. “I’m so interested in finding new songs to share with people that aren’t the same 50 standards that everybody hears all the time.”
Jazz In Space by Nick Bewsey
“You don’t have to look far to hear a true jazz singer. That would be Judy Wexler and she’s someone who’s got the smarts to understand a lyrical phrase and knows how to tell a story. A chanteuse to be reckoned with, Wexler teams again with pianist/arranger extraordinaire Alan Pasqua for her third album, Under a Painted Sky (Jazzed Media).
Golden voiced with spot-on enunciation and a natural loveliness, Wexler whoops it up in grand fashion (“Wonderful Wonderful”), handles samba with gentle aplomb (“A Little Tear”) and swings the dickens out of Benny Golson’s finger-popping “Whisper Not.” She respectfully takes for her own two tunes associated with great jazz vocalists, Abbey Lincoln’s “And How I Hoped For Your Love” and “The Great City” once popularized by Shirley Horn back in the 60s.
Bassist Darek Oles, drummer Steve Haas, saxophonists Bob Mintzer (tenor) and Bob Sheppard (soprano) guitarist Larry Koonse, trumpeter Walt Fowler and percussionist Alex Acuna provide the kind of top-tier support that Wexler deserves and it’s worth giving Pasqua additional credit for creating an open soundstage that’s both intimate and welcoming. If there’s one tune missing among the dozen high-quality standards and tunes that Wexler interprets, it would be the song that best defines her — Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love.”
TheBluegrassSpecial.com by David McGee
Judy Wexler: A Passion For The Moment
“California-born and -bred Judy Wexler floats above and flits about her songs with breezy joie de vivre and with such delight in their themes that a casual listener might mistake her sunniness for superficiality. Those casual listeners would be wrong. Wexler’s warm, airy voice is deceptively but deeply engaged in her repertoire’s emotional textures, and once you hear its woodwind quality in the context of her tight jazz octet’s sublime conversations, her passion for the moment, and her determination to find a distinctive opening for herself (especially in some of this album’s more familiar tunes), become dramas unto themselves.
Even so, Wexler, on this followup to her widely acclaimed second album, 2009’s Dream & Shadows, prefers to keep matters upbeat. She makes that much clear at the outset, by kicking off with a brisk, galloping treatment of Johnny Mathis’s first big hit, 1957’s “Wonderful Wonderful.” What a smart move this was–Mathis’s heightened, dreamy romanticism is a work of art unto itself, and it seems foolish for any artist to try to best the master’s (and his producer, Mitch Miller’s) approach. Instead, Wexler takes flight in her upper register, de-emphasizing the dreaminess–but it’s there, subtly–in favor of communicating the sheer joy of feeling real love in all its dimensions; she sings “I say to myself, wonderful, wonderful, oh so wonderful, my luuuvvv” with a sense of buoyant disbelief, thrilled but nonplussed that it’s happening to her. In this endeavor one would be remiss for failing to mention the terrific soprano sax work of Bob Sheppard, who appears periodically to buttress the vocals with an affectionate, flitting monologue of his own that is the instrumental counterpart to Wexler’s bright-eyed joy, and the bracing, conversational piano musings of producer Alan Pasqua, whose tasty restraint is the ballast advising, in effect, “don’t get carried away here.”
This in turn proves to be the perfect setup for Wexler’s take on the great Abbey Lincoln’s “And How I Hoped For Your Love,” in which Pasqua’s piano articulates the deepest yearnings expressed in Lincoln’s lyrics, while Larry Koonse’s graceful, gut-string guitar solo heightens the reflective mood. Wexler brings it home, though, with a deliberate, quietly smoldering reading of lyrics describing both finding and losing love that is equal parts heartache and hope, a notion Wexler underscores with the little hesitation move she employs when she sings/speaks the title sentiment–“and how I hoped–hoped–for your love…”
Conscious or not, the sequencing of “Wonderful Wonderful” and “And How I Hoped For Your Love” at the top the album pretty much sets the tone for the other 10 songs to come–most of what we encounter on Under A Painted Sky is encapsulated in these two numbers, after which Wexler and Pasqua work variations on these themes, with a couple of memorable detours into darker terrain. A wonderful arrangement of Jeri Southern’s career launching pop hit from 1955, “An Occasional Man,” ascends, descends and curls all around Wexler’s playful, rhythmically astute vocal celebrating the solitude of an island paradise where she can swim naked, feast on tropical fruit and, when the spirit moves her, enjoy the companionship of a gent–with the latter clearly the least of her priorities; perhaps Walt Fowler’s discursive flugelhorn solo–alternately skittering and crooning–stands in for the utilitarian male being put in his place. Purely dreamy and longing, Wexler’s reading of Sunny Skylar’s “Don’t Wait Too Long,” supplemented by another evocative gut-string guitar solo courtesy Larry Koonse, is a simple, straightforward expression of desire, unambiguous and scoring a direct hit on the heart in one of Wexler’s most persuasive recorded vocals yet.
This engaging dialogue between Wexler and her band continues unabated through the rest of the album. One of the many highlights is “Avec le Temps,” the fatalistic, even nihilistic, French hit originally recorded by unapologetic anarchist Leo Ferre, who was less famous for his political leanings than for his beloved songs (in his native land he’s considered an equal of Jacques Brel). The most memorable version is by the tragic Egyptian-born, French naturalized diva who went by the professional name of Dalida and committed suicide in 1987, at age 54; Abbey Lincoln also recorded an acidic version of the song, with Pat Metheny on guitar, on her 1994 A Turtle’s Dream album. At 7:48, this version is the longest song on the album, owing to an expanded instrumental passage midway through in which Koones and Pasqua offer moody, ruminative solos (it’s about time here, too, to recognize the stellar rhythm section work of drummer Steve Hass, bassist Darek Oles and percussionist Alex Acuna, who are steady, subtle and empathetic throughout, but are especially striking on this number). But again, it’s Wexler who weaves a special magic to elevate the whole affair onto a higher spiritual plane. Ferre’s lyrics have been translated in various ways, and the snippet Wexler sings in English towards the end of the song, from which the album derives its title, is yet another translation (Ferre’s lyric “under the unvarnished advice,” follows and makes sense after “between the words, between the lines and…” but does not mention “under a painted sky”); regardless, the Ferre fatalism–“with time, everything goes away”–comes through in Wexler’s wistful reading set in melancholy mise en scene perfect for a ’60s French film from, say, Claude Lelouch.
Other than Ferre’s own recording of his song, the most famous cover of the oft-recorded “Avec le Temps” is the 1971 rendition by the legendary Egyptian-born, French naturalized singer known as Dalida (born Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti), seen here in a live performance clip. Sadly, Dalida seemed to live the life the song describes, and died by her own hand in 1987.
On “Till There Was You,” Wexler is up against not only the original version from The Music Man but also the Beatles’ version on their first album. As she does with “Wonderful Wonderful” so she does with Meredith Willson’s lovely tune–taking it at a stately pace with probing passages and a certain palpable relief in the swooning way she reads “there was love, all around/but I never heard it singing/no, I never heard it at all/till there was you,” with another sensitive assist instrumentally from Bob Sheppard’s dipping, darting soprano sax solo. Carmen McRae’s wrenching, blues-drenched piano ballad, “Last Time for Love,” salutes yet another strong female vocalist who’s had an impact on Wexler, this time in a saloon-style setting, with Pasqua adding delicate piano filigrees along with an introspective solo run, the rhythm section playing softly, unobtrusively, and Wexler both aching and defiant in her conflicted kissoff–even as she quits him, she can’t quit him. Thus are the wonders of Under a Painted Sky, a high-water mark for one of contemporary music’s gifted jazz vocalists. Some of its many pleasures are easily accessible; others require the listener to work a bit, and there’s nothing wrong with being challenged as a listener when the art in question delivers so much upon closer inspection. The center holds, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and in all aspects this album is a beauty.”
F.A.M.E. (Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange) by Mark S. Tucker
“Judy Wexler sings in a cool refreshing voice, kind of a blend of Karen Carpenter, Toni Tenille, Doris Day, and then the boss nova chanteuses. And, yow!, she couldn’t have chosen a better band for her coverage of standards, classics, and other songs: Alan Pasqua, Bob Mintzer, Walt Fowler, Alex Acuna, and four more in a great nightclub/night streets/August afternoon ambiance. Bright and bouncy, pensive, wistful, no matter the emotion or coloration, these guys have it covered, and Wexler pitches her talent to embrace each mode and mood.
In “And How I Hoped for Your Love,” she switches up from the naturalistic lilt of the opening “Wonderful Wonderful,” elongating her notes into slinky elastic breeze-blown confections. Blue Note would have been proud to have presented this spotlessly engineered and artfully arranged dozen cuts. Pasqua tackles that last task and produced the rhythm tracks as well, besides playing an enchanting piano. The clarity and crystallinity of it all is gratifying in the extreme, and the heart skips a beat to be enveloped in such yesteryear virtues so masterfully painted. Then there’s the lighthearted, carefree, summer’s sensuality of Wexler in her rendition of “An Occasional Man” (and boys, she goes swimming in just a smile!).
June Christy, of course, comes to mind, and one is mindful of just how infrequently this modality is presented, especially with so many trying to be the next Janis Joplin or Etta James. That’s all well and good, sure, but a few more Janis Siegels, Astrud Gilbertos, and dreamy girl-next-doors never hurt either. Wexler covers a zone not precisely hit by much of anyone anymore, a sphere you didn’t know you missed until you hear her. Surprisingly, she is, as JazzTimes has noted, bop oriented, shown clearly in “Great City,” but the suppleness of her delivery softens all the hard edges, substituting velvety smoothness and deceptively crafted sonority for what would normally be staccato inflections. Listen to her riffs in “Avec le Temps,” however, and you’ll see the wont hiding in many places. Then she trots out a Mark-Almond-ish “Cafe” dripping with the sophisticated reaches of upper New York (catch that Fowler flugelhorn – Chuck Mangione and Johnny Almond himself would’ve had a tough time matching the piquancy; the latter on sax, of course). So do yourself a favor and find out how many O’s can fit into ‘smooooooooth’ in this perfect disc of unutterably romantic songs.”
The Jazz Page — Raves by Glenn Daniels
“Singer Judy Wexler and her mesmerizing voice take on the tunes by some great composers on her latest recording. Under A Painted Sky is a foray through the songbooks of Benny Golson, Leonard Feather, Gary McFarland, Carmen McRae and Abbey Lincoln, among others. The songs are wonderfully arranged by Alan Pasqua, who plays piano on the project and worked with Wexler on her two previous efforts. The album is also graced by the talents of Bob Mintzer and Bob Sheppard on tenor and soprano saxes, respectively. Alex Acuna is featured on percussion, Darek Oles on bass, Steve Hass on drums, Larry Koonse on guitar and Walter Fowler on trumpet and flugelhorn. Another fantastic outing for Wexler that is worth hearing.”
Midwest Record by Chris Spector
“Wexler continues to affirm she’s a right on nu jazz vocalist as she adds her own special sauce to chestnuts and continues to seek out tunes from offbeat sources that she has the instincts to make her own. Whether covering Johnny Mathis or Egberto Gismonti, Wexler is a most charming tour guide and gracious hostess. Her first call pals bring up the rear without getting in her way and a good time is really had by all. A top shelf recording throughout.”
Jazz Society of Oregon by George Fendel
“Of Wexler, JazzTimes said: “One of the most focused, unpretentious, no-nonsense, bop-oriented jazz singers around.” Judging from both her first CD, Dreams & Shadows, as well as this one, I would enthusiastically agree. Wexler possesses a nearly engrained, somehow automatic feeling for delivering a lyric with total honesty. And she does this with spot-on intonation and respect for her material. For this session, she works hand-in-glove with some first cabin Southland cats like Alan Pasqua, Bob Sheppard, Larry Koonse, Darek Oles and Bob Mintzer, among others. Her choices of tunes are quite varied and include a few real surprises. Remember Johnny Mathis and “Wonderful Wonderful”? Well, her new spin on that tune will get your attention. Or how about the Sinatra vehicle, “Don’t Wait Too Long”? It’s such a well-written song that I’ve never understood why nobody else has sung it until now. Both Shirley Horn and Joe Williams gave us great takes on “The Great City,” and Wexler revives it with aplomb. Benny Golson’s classic, “Whisper Not,” is another top tier choice, and other surprises include “An Occasional Man” and “Till There Was You” (from “The Music Man”). All these and a handful of well-chosen obscurities add up to another bright, breezy and buoyant effort.”
Game Vortex by Matt Paddock
“There are a lot of mediocre singers in the world. We don’t say that to be cruel, just to make it clear that we need more than a nice voice and a catchy hook to be impressed. Judy Wexler: Under A Painted Sky is an impressive record. It’s packed with accomplished musicians, interesting repertoire, and a woman who leads the band rather than just floating above it. The latter is hard to explain, especially to non-musicians, but there is a difference between singing and performing. Almost any fool can sing a tune, but to perform means putting one’s stamp on some material. Listen to any of the greats singing stock material in surprising and delightful ways. Check out Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” or Sonny Rollins performing “Blue Room” and compare to the source. Wexler is channeling jazz greats and performing repertoire, but she appears driven to leave her stamp on what she touches.
The record has a dozen songs from a wide variety of genres, everything from offbeat standards to show tunes. The band contains luminaries like Bob Mintzer on tenor sax and Alex Acuna on percussion, plus solid accompaniment from Larry Koonse on guitar, Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass, and Steve Hass on drums. Additional horn performances from Bob Sheppard (soprano sax) and Walt Fowler (trumpet and flugel) make this a relatively big ensemble. Softer performances like Shirley Horn’s “The Great City” find the group scaled back and well behind Wexler, while group members come to the fore for a more rousing cooker like “An Occasional Man” or the lead track, “Wonderful Wonderful.” Wexler veers away from traditional jazz on something like “Avec le Temps,” but shows her roots firmly on a standard like “Whisper Not,” which is still not the most mainstream part of the jazz canon. We found it refreshing to hear a vocalist featuring more musically adventurous material, which works in the case of Judy Wexler because of her strong vocal style.
There are a few women singers who just sound more like horn players, and Wexler falls into this category. Going back to Sarah Vaughan, and more modern examples such as Carmen McRae and Dianne Reeves, there’s a quality to some voices that project more and blend better in a full ensemble. The connections between notes have, in musical terms, portamento that one usually associates with an instrument. If you’ve listened much to the singers mentioned above, you know what we mean, and Wexler acknowledges the strong influence of McRae in her liner notes for the tune “Last Time for Love.” Wispy, dainty singers can sound very good, but Wexler isn’t one of those. She has a strong, out-front style that demonstrates her vocal confidence and her command of this material. You may not know a lot of the material on Under A Painted Sky, but we can promise they’ll be bouncing around your heart thanks to Judy Wexler.”
Pop Culture Classics by Paul Freeman
“Whatever the mood, vibrant vocalist Wexler can convey it perfectly. With an expressive, nuanced voice and a unique manner of phrasing, she adds her own magic to such tunes as “Wonderful Wonderful” and “Avec Le Temps.” Some very tasty tidbits by her musicians complement her exploration of many vivid emotions.”
Digital Jazz News by Brent Black
“Some of you may be familiar with Wexler, as this is her third release and the buzz around her has been steady and consistent over the last few years, and with good reason.
Judy Wexler can sing!
A clean and clear voice with just a slight earthy or smoky finish, Wexler hits a sweet spot in jazz vocals that not many artists are filling right now. Under a Painted Sky does the same. Instead of a handful of the same predictable covers that have essentially been beaten to death, the tunes here are some “lesser-known,” and in some cases, forgotten numbers that Wexler embraces to make her own.
Alan Pasqua, piano
Darek Oles, bass
Steve Hass, drums
Larry Koonse, guitar
Bob Mintzer, tenor Sax
Bob Sheppard, soprano Sax
Walt Fowler, trumpet & flugelhorn
Alex Acuna, percussion
Wexler weaves her magic in and around these accomplished musicians as they return the favor by playing “with” her and not “behind” her. Big difference.
Under a Painted Sky pays tribute to some of the legendary female vocalists of our time: Abbey Lincoln, Blossom Dearie, Shirley Horn and Carmen McRae. An admittedly more personal release.
Perhaps the best compliment I could pay is that Wexler goes from singer to storyteller with such ease and grace that she transitions into a very intimate and engaging artist taking you along for a wonderful ride.
Judy Wexler opens with a surprising rendition of the 1950’s Johnny Mathis hit “Wonderful Wonderful,” and the release simply takes off from there.
High Points – Far too many to list. A flawless presentation.
Low Points – Goose egg other than being too short for my taste.
I had a publicist thank me for giving what he referred to as some “lesser-known” artists a fair shake. When the talent is this good, then it really is not all that tough. Remember some artists do not have a major deal for obvious reasons — why Wexler does not is truly stunning.
Buy or Sell?
Blogcritics.org by Jordan Richardson
“I’ve been wondering a lot about wonder lately. I’ve been curious about the curiosities of life, the “cool salty air” and what it feels like to exist in a state of astonishment. So frequently we succumb to the rushes of life, never stopping to partake in something genuinely human. Judy Wexler takes her time and seems to wonder about the world and the songs within in it on her Under a Painted Sky. I first discovered Wexler in March of 2008. Her Dreams & Shadows was a beguiling example of what happens when someone who can swing meets magnificent storytelling. Her sensibilities as a singer are never demanding and she expresses herself beautifully through simple turns of phrase and straightforward expression. Under a Painted Sky continues the notion with gratifying simplicity. Singing tunes arranged by Alan Pasqua, Wexler pronounces elegantly and smiles her way through a dozen songs picked and arranged from various corners of the artistic world. She opens with “Wonderful Wonderful,” a tune Johnny Mathis turned into a hit. Walt Fowler (trumpet and flugelhorn) offers jubilant accompaniment as Wexler describes the magic of love. “I feel the glow of your unspoken love,” she sings. “I’m aware of all the treasures that I own.” Gears shift slightly going into the lounge feel of “And How I Hoped for Your Love,” a number guided by Pasqua’s piano and some nice brushwork from Steve Hass. Wexler, a Los Angeles native, models her version of “Don’t Wait Too Long” off Blossom Dearie. The way Wexler spaces her words is magical and the lovely playing of guitarist Larry Koonse melds perfectly with Pasqua’s ivories to create a vibe that is truly special. It’s a smooth piece of music, that’s for sure. Wexler’s influences include the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan, but there’s a touch of classical to her air as well. Having studied jazz at the Dick Grove Music School, Wexler’s been a student of some of the best jazz piano and jazz singing teachers in the business. It shows, as her technique is well-expressed and her tone is rich. Under a Painted Sky is a collection of music that showcases Wexler stunningly, but it also takes her to the next level beyond Dreams & Shadows. Lovely and lively, this recording is one that helps inject a little much-needed wonder and astonishment back into the world.”
JazzTimes Blog by Wilbert Sostre
“Under a Painted Sky is Judy Wexler’s third release (2005 Easy on the Heart, 2008 Dreams & Shadows). Wexler is one of those uncommon singers with the sensitive, tender feel to clearly express the emotion of a ballad like “Don’t Wait Too Long” and the tight, impeccable technique to swing in tunes like “The Great City.” Under a Painted Sky has a perfect balance between upbeat tunes and slow ballads. On either one, Wexler displays her distinctive style compounded of an elegant, exquisite phrasing and a gorgeous voice. Wexler’s versatile voice can be sexy and humorous on “An Occasional Man,” romantic on “Cafe,” and then show some vulnerability on the ballad, “Sack Full of Dreams”. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… like in Wexler’s previous albums, pianist Alan Pasqua once again provides the spacious arrangements that allow the listener to fully enjoy the emotional coloring of Wexler’s vocals. Wexler is in the company of master musicians on Under a Painted Sky, including Bob Mintzer on tenor sax, Walt Fowler on trumpet, Bob Sheppard on soprano sax, and bassist Darek Oles (both played on Wexler’s first two releases), and master percussionist Alex Acuna.”
NPR Weekend Edition
“Based on the evidence of her new second album, Dreams & Shadows, Judy Wexler can sing almost anything.”
— Susan Stamberg
All Music Guide (4.5 Stars)
“Rare is the jazz vocal CD that makes one stand up and take notice on the first hearing. But Judy Wexler achieves that reaction with her brilliant Dreams & Shadows, in part due to her instinctive ability to bring out the best in each song, often taking it into unfamiliar territory… Judy Wexler deserves widespread recognition for her outstanding CD.”
— Ken Dryden
“So refreshingly good, so fundamentally gifted is Judy Wexler… now, with this exalted follow-up to 2005’s superb Easy on the Heart, Wexler proves she’s ready to join the top rank of female jazz vocalists.
— Christopher Loudon
EJazzNews (5 Stars)
“Since 1999, Judy Wexler has wowed local L.A. audiences with her pitch-perfect vocals sung as jazz should be sung with soul, style, clear articulation and the ability to swing with the best of them… Bebop is alive and well under the tutelage of Judy Wexler as she parlays “Pent Up House” into a soon to be classic. This singer has all the necessary ingredients and a sense of time that is remarkable. I remember Judy Wexler from her early years as a very hip singer with all the inherent tools to be a force in the jazz genre…and it’s no surprise that she has emerged as just that, a star among stars.”
— John Gilbert
“Judy Wexler pulls you into her music with a combination of wit, style and knowingness that must make a lyricist very pleased that she’s chosen to interpret his or her words. On top of that, her playful way with a tune and the wonderful fluidity of her voice would make any melodist smile. With her sharp jazz instincts and formidable vocal skills, she knows exactly where to stretch or alter time and when to veer slightly from the melody… Some buzz seems to be building around Wexler and, for once, it’s deserved.”
— Joseph Taylor
Wexler has a distinctive, voice full of shadings, and simply knows how to dig into a song and find its essence. Speaking of songs, Wexler has chosen an interesting and eclectic program… This is an impressive collection by a singer who is sure to attract lots of attention with quality efforts like this.”
— Joe Lang
Dreams & Shadows is Wexler’s baby all the way, one that can claim turf on the small landscape of genuinely great modern jazz vocalist recordings… This CD puts Wexler solidly among the ranks of the really good singers like Kate McGarry and Tierney Sutton. On Dreams & Shadows she sounds exceedingly relaxed and comfortable throughout, and exhibits just enough fearlessness, daring and control that everything here just clicks.”
— Nick Bewsey (New Hope, PA)
“Judy Wexler shows on Dreams & Shadows she has a voice as versatile as her recognition of song is broad… This album thrives in understated energy.”
— Bob Karlovits
Jazz Improv Magazine
Judy Wexler is a great singer and Dreams & Shadows is a great CD.
California Tour & Travel
…(Wexler) achieves the perfect balance of singer and musicians. Her tonality and delivery are impeccable, especially considering the choice of songs. Often jazz vocalists rely on well-known and worn material that is easy to mold. Wexler differs, instead showing with ingenious arrangements and some of Los Angeles’s greatest players, an uncanny ability to create outstanding jazz.”
Jazz Society of Oregon
“Who was it that once said ‘You’ll know it when you hear it?’ Well, there are those who would strive to be called jazz singers and others who actually may claim the title. Judy Wexler fits in the latter category. And you’ll know it when you hear it. Among those qualities which provide the answer: intonation, telling the story of the lyric, phrasing, choice of material, knowing how much improvisation is perfect, hiring hip accompanists, and more. And Judy Wexler is the complete package… she’s the real deal … a jazz singer!”
— George Fendel
Santa Barbara Independent
Wexler is taking her rightful place in the ranks of strong jazz singers on the scene.”
“Here’s a thrush that knows how to sing and swing like a throwback to the golden age of broads. Saucy, sexy with great tone and style, she’s selling the steak and not just the sizzle. A jazz vocalist for this or any season, Wexler hits it on some intuitive, innate level that just makes you a fan right out of the box. Hot stuff throughout.”
— Chris Spector
All About Jazz New York
Wexler is a breath of fresh air, a clear, clean voice that imbues life into every song she enters. 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.”
— Florence Wetzel
West Coast jazz vocalist Judy Wexler not only knows her way around a bop tune, fluidly negotiating angular intervals and racing tempos, she knows how to personalize a pop tune, no matter how familiar or faded.
— Mike Joyce
Detroit Free Press
“West Coast jazz singer Judy Wexler has a lithe and limber voice, an improvisatory attitude and an ear for fresh reinventions of standards.”
— Mark Stryker
In Tune International
“Judy stays right on top of her 13-song programme of what seems like tailor-made songs chosen just for her. Her distinctive jazz stylings are amazing throughout.”
— Dan Singer
Public Radio International — Jim Wilke’s Jazz After Hours
Dreams & Shadows — Best of 2008 Vocal CDs!
Germein Linares, All About Jazz
“Her assertive, no-frills delivery is a dominant and pleasant feature in her singing, as it focuses our attention on the clear and lucid storytelling. The extras in her style are subtle, delicate, well-timed, purposeful and a testament to her good taste…she clearly knows what liberties to take, what lines to stretch and, more importantly, how to enchant us fully.”
Scott Yanow, Jazziz, June 2005
Easy on the Heart has one memorable performance after another. Wexler interprets the diverse material with sensitivity and understated swing, sticking to the lyrics and putting plenty of feeling into the words. Her handling of the difficult lyrics of Meredith D’Ambrosio’s “Gorgeous Creature” (which uses the chords of “Beautiful Love”) is impressive, as is her ability to stretch herself to include the Beatles’ “In My Life” and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
Michael Gladstone, All About Jazz
“This is one special jazz vocal debut album from Los Angeles area-based Judy Wexler. This album stands miles ahead in the proliferating femme jazz vocal field. I can only hope that it will find its way to the in-baskets of the various jazz radio programmers, and fast!”
Paul deBarros, Seattle Times, November 11, 2005
After a phone interview with the fabulous new Los Angeles vocalist Judy Wexler, she sent me an e-mail of her five favorite jazz-vocal albums. Wexler had no idea I was going to print her list, but I thought it would give you a good idea just how hip she is: “Bittersweet,” Carmen McRae; Better Than Anything, Irene Kral (with the Junior Mance Trio); Annie Ross Sings a Song with Mulligan; Social Call, Betty Carter; (Tossup) Wholly Earth or You Gotta Pay the Band, Abbey Lincoln. Wexler’s “desert island discs” were no huge surprise, given her cool repertoire and dazzling technique on Easy on the Heart, her debut CD.”
Jim Santella, L.A. Jazz Scene, April 2005
“With her debut CD, Judy Wexler finally unlocks the secret that she’s been keeping hidden while performing for local audiences at venues around town. Her warm, expressive vocal interpretations give the session plenty to love. Wexler forges ahead into straight-ahead territory with her own personal stamp on each arrangement. The result is a lively session that’s filled with the spirit of the blues and the swinging rhythms of jazz. But it’s the singer’s vocal clarity, driving passion, and down to earth interpretations that make her debut a sure winner. Wexler convinces with a natural aura and a musically superior ambience.”
Steven Rosenberg, L.A. Daily News
“Wexler doesn’t play the debut-disc game of most jazz vocalists by packing the playlist with ringers. Instead, this subtly powerful Glendale singer offers a satisfyingly challenging program of lesser-known gems… Wexler also proves she can handle bebop (Meredith D’Ambrosio’s “Gorgeous Creature”) and deliver the blues (with an Oscar Brown Jr. cover, no less). The one constant: a spot-on, expressive voice.”
Alex Henderson, All Music Guide
“…she successfully brings her interpretive powers to everything from Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” the Beatles’ “In My Life” and Henry Mancini’s “Moment to Moment” to Abbey Lincoln’s “I’m in Love.” Of course, having an interesting, far-reaching repertoire wouldn’t mean much if Wexler couldn’t sing—and thankfully, she has a big, appealing voice and a healthy sense of swing to go with her broad-minded song selection. Hard-swinging but with a definite romantic streak, Wexler is someone admirers of Abbey Lincoln or Dianne Reeves should have no problem getting into—and she’s someone who shows a lot of promise on her memorable debut album.”
John Gilbert, ejazznews.com
“Judy Wexler has all the necessary ingredients a jazz singer requires and she uses them all in the hallmark of this recording, “Nobody Else But Me.” With a rapid fire delivery, Wexler puts this tune in the cosmos, right up there where Hammerstein/Kern reside, and I am sure they are more than pleased…Judy Wexler has a voice made for jazz.”
Paula Edelstein, Sounds of Timeless Jazz (www.soundsoftimelessjazz.com)
“Jazz vocalist Judy Wexler sings an exceptional set on her latest release Easy on the Heart. Her interplay with her quintet showcases her deep sense of swing and rich harmonic skills in such a great way as to beautifully enhance her abilities as an entertainer. Wexler has a warm sound, excellent note-for-note phrasing, a winning sense of dynamics and a distinctive style of improvisation that helps to transcend the songs on the recording to another level of appreciation. Overall, Judy Wexler does a great job of exposing her inventive singing and ability to drive the band to both new and current fans.“
Mike Matheny, RadioioJazz.com (Easy on the Heart featured as Pick of the Week, 4/18-24/05)
“A debut album this good? Put one of the warmest voices on the planet with Alan Pasqua on the piano and Darek Oles on bass… and the rest is what you would imagine. The voice belongs to Judy Wexler and the release is “Easy on the Heart” … in the spotlight this week on RadioioJAZZ! The voice and character of the vocal reveals a depth of expressions. At times what you hear is warm and inviting… she can shift to gutsy and ‘blues born’. And then there is the confident delivery on “Nobody Else But Me”… even further, there is another scope of expression on pop tunes such as the Beatles’ “In My Life” or Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” This album is successful because the talent is real.”
Karl Stober, JazzReview.com Interview
“Easy on the Heart is a passionate debut project with several attitudes branching out to touch listeners, at times allowing her level of tone and vocal structure to expand to many degrees. In fact, her forte as a storyteller is noticeably prevalent. Ms. Wexler also shows great command and control of her performances, a sturdy and grounded foundation in her career with this initial project.”
MJ Territo, Jazz Improv Magazine, New York Supplement
“Listening to Judy Wexler’s Easy on the Heart is like being at a dinner party where you meet a lot of people you’d like to know better. Wexler is a gracious hostess¬ — warm and relaxed — and the evening moves along smoothly, without pretensions or affectations. Some of the songs she serves up are familiar, but none are in any way overdone; others are downright surprising, but delicious nonetheless. “
Peter Aaron, Jazz Improv Magazine
“Wexler’s smooth voice is flawless.”