Of all the facets to Judy Wexler, the Los Angeles-based singer, her ability to tell stories stands out the most. Back in 2008, Dreams and Shadows found her evolving her instincts to swing. In 2011, Under a Painted Sky pulled on that sensibility and found wonder in the world. And now in 2013, What I See crystallizes the journey so far.
For her latest outing, Wexler sings tunes arranged by Jeff Colella and once again uses her gifts to illuminate a sense of curiosity, cunning and perception. And far from being a typical parsing of the American songbook, What I See digs deeper into the musical consciousness for familiar but underappreciated gems.
That the disc starts with a rendition of King Pleasure’s “Tomorrow is Another Day” is a testament to this fact. This tune starts with a dance between Colella’s piano and Bob Sheppard’s noir-tinged bass clarinet, giving it an under-the-streetlamp aroma that only darkens with Wexler’s vocals. Steve Hass pipes in drum accents to match the finessed brushes, while Chris Colangelo’s bass walks along. The architecture of the song, how the elements pour into the glass, is the focus throughout What I See, exemplifying the notion that the vocalist works as part of the unit in service of the tune. She isn’t a showy singer, endorsing her larger purpose.
That’s not to say that Wexler is taken over, of course. She assumes ownership of “They Say It’s Spring,” popping into a nearly lightheaded step that soaks up the love and gentle rain with every sweet note from Larry Koonse’s guitar. Or there’s the twinkling “A Kiss To Build a Dream On,” a classy and swaying joint that features Colella’s flowing and flourishing ivories and Ron Stout’s stalwart soloing.
Perhaps “Convince Me” that plays to Wexler’s vocal gifts the most. Her diction in on-point and her breathy-but-modest intonations stroke the corners of the lines with class. Listen to how she phrases “Look into my eyes before my common sense is lost” and try not to fall under her spell. And she certainly deserves bonus points for including the word “quixotic” without sounding forced.
Her most fully realized recording yet, What I See represents Wexler’s view from the top. But rather than looking down on these songs and advancing her own perception at all costs, she uses her skill and understanding to live in the moments worth singing and dreaming about.