Judy Wexler takes a fresh approach to song selection with Crowded Heart

A large percentage of singers today have wonderful voices. But not all choose the best material.

Too many pick tired songbook standards that are worn thin. Others record songs they’ve written when, in fact, the material isn’t very compelling or engaging. Judy Wexler has a terrific voice and she’s done something fairly groundbreaking on her new album: She has selected 10 terrific, little-known ballads by contemporary artists, and she clearly was governed by love.

Her new album, Crowded Heart, features seven superb musicians: Alan Pasqua (piano, melodica, whistling); Larry Koonse (guitar); Josh Johnson (alto sax), Bob Sheppard (alto flute), Stefanie Fife (cello), Darek Oles (bass), Steve Hass (drums) and Aaron Serfaty (percussion). Pasqua wrote the arrangements and plays marvelous accompaniment piano.

Wexler’s song choices are especially commendable. Many are melodically complex, but she aces them, taking her voice wherever it has to go to satisfy the music and win you over.

The track listing:

  • Circus Life by Luciana Souza, Larry Klein and David Batteau
  • Parisian Heartbreak by Richard Galliano and Kurt Elling
  • Crowded Heart by Sinne Eeg and Mads Mathias
  • Painted on Canvas by Gregory Porter
  • Stars by Fred Hersch and Norma Winstone
  • The Last Goodbye by Alan Broadbent and Georgia Mancio
  • Take My Breath Away by René Marie
  • I Took Your Hand by Enrico Pieranunzi and Lorraine Feather
  • It’s Only Smoke by Larry Goldings and Cliff Goldmacher
  • And We Will Fly by Alan Pasqua, Kurt Elling and Philip Edward Galdston

Wexler’s passion for these songs is evident. She combines an emotional seriousness with a breezy feel and tremendous breath control. These songs are not easy to sing. And with Pasqua’s arrangements and exquisite instrumental backing, the album pays homage to those who are writing smart jazz songs today.

The album also sets a golden example for all singers who want to expand beyond the obvious and the mundane. You have to roll up your sleeves and do the research.