Judy Wexler’s “Crowded Heart” is a sumptuous redefinition of jazz standards

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Coming May 31, 2019 is “Crowded Heart” by vocalist Judy Wexler. The album represents Wexler’s need to revitalize jazz by taking under-performed gems and bringing them to life with engaging arrangements and talented musicians.

“Crowded Heart” is Wexler’s fifth recording. The collection of ten modern jazz standards for the 21st century. The overall effect is music that is sophisticated without being slick or colorless.

About Judy Wexler

Wexler is a fixture of the California jazz scene. She is a Los Angeles native and still resides there. Wexler performs regularly at clubs up and down the California coast, in particular from San Diego to San Francisco to Mendocino.

Despite her California roots, Wexler can, and has performed elsewhere. Her venues include Birdland and The Blue Note in New York City, in addition to Scullers in Boston. Wexler has also performed internationally in Tel Aviv, Dubai and Montreal.

Wexler has built a career in part on her unofficial role as a “song archaeologist.” Meaning, she has a knack for unearthing sonic gems and presenting them effectively to audiences.

Her previous recordings, starting with 2005’s “Easy on the Heart,” have all earned rave reviews and topped national Jazzweek radio charts.

The sound and style of “Crowded Heart” by Judy Wexler

One of the fascinating aspects of “Crowded Heart” is how Wexler manages to make the songs on the recording sound both new and familiar. For all except the most ardent of jazz fans, the songs are likely to simply sound new.

Arguably, Wexler’s sound on “Crowded Heart” has a tinge of pop mixed with energy of classic jazz. There is a sophisticated urgency in Wexler’s delivery, as if she is imparting to audiences how important it is that they learn about the songs themselves, as opposed to just how she is singing them.

For some listeners, Wexler’s voice recalls lesser-known alternative pop and rock singers like Jennifer Trynin. Wexler’s is a voice that edges toward fragility without losing control of the material. It is that control, mixed with the instrumental arrangement of the musicians, gives the jazz classics a new feel.

Two songs on the album that should not be missed are “Circus Life” and “Painted on Canvas.” The songs serve as an introduction to Wexler’s ability as a singer and her interests as a song historian.

“Circus Life” thrums with a shimmering, then gently thundering drum motif. A moody piano accents the sound. As Wexler heads into the chorus, the music lightens into a samba-like rhythm. An acoustic guitar underscores Wexler’s voice perfectly as she works through the verses. Overall, the song takes on a big theme about the insecurity that can come with interpersonal relationships. The whistling at the end is a nice effect.

“Painted On Canvas” is another song of serious theme. It discusses how people are shaped and how their stories are told. The nimble, but heavy bass pushes the song forward, but the piano and horn accents give it a classic feel. The horn showcase is particularly effective.

Wexler is joined on “Crowded Heart” by Alan Pasqua on piano, whistling, and melodica; Larry Koonse on guitar; Josh Johnson on alto sax; Bob Sheppard on alto flute; Derek Oles on bass; Steve Hass on drums; Aaron Serfaty on percussion and Stefanie Fife on cello.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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