April 2008

Judy Wexler - Dreams & Shadows
Jazzed Media JM1031
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

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. Dreams & Shadows is her second disc, but it has the confidence and assurance one would expect from a singer with a more extensive discography.

Dreams & Shadows benefits from fresh song choices that smartly highlight Wexler’s talents. She covers two songs by Blossom Dearie, warm tributes from her to a fellow singer, and two infrequently covered standards, Harold Arlen’s "If I Only Had a Brain" and Jerome Kern’s "In Love In Vain." Her take on "Spookie," the '60s hit for the Classics IV, is cool and sexy, and her moving version of "One Less Bell to Answer" avoids the maudlin clichés other singers have fallen prey to. Wexler’s readings are dramatic, but she never overwhelms or over emotes.

Wexler is surrounded by very strong musicians throughout Dreams & Shadows, including Jo LaBarbera on drums, pianists Alan Pasqua and Jeff Colella, and Bob Shepard on reeds. Pasqua and Colella have prepared swinging, tasteful arrangements for her and she delivers. Beautifully mastered by Ron McMaster, the sound on Dreams & Shadows is very good -- open and expansive.

Some buzz seems to be building around Wexler and, for once, it’s deserved.