“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.”
by Dan Bilawsky