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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.