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Judy Wexler re-visits the 60s

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    Posted: 26 May 2021 at 1:40pm
JUDY WEXLER REIMAGINES 1960s SONGS
OF LOVE, HOPE & CHANGE
BACK TO THE GARDEN
Coming June 4th on Jewel City Jazz

Vocalist JUDY WEXLER is known for her soulful, heartfelt vocals and her ability to find under-exposed gems and imbue them with warmth and wit. On BACK TO THE GARDEN (June 4, 2021, Jewel City Jazz), she departs from her usual jazz fare to recast iconic songs of the 1960s as jazz/pop anthems relevant for today’s social and political ethos.
 
BACK TO THE GARDEN is Wexler’s sixth album. It follows Crowded Heart (2019), What I See (2013), Under a Painted Sky (2011), Dreams & Shadows (2008), and Easy on the Heart (2005). Each album received wide critical acclaim and made it to the top of the national JazzWeek radio charts.
 
Wexler is a mainstay on the California jazz scene. A Los Angeles native and current resident, she performs regularly around the state, from San Diego to San Francisco to Mendocino. She also headlines major venues across the country, appearing at Birdland and The Blue Note in New York City, Jazz Alley in Seattle, Blues Alley in Washington, DC, among many others. She has sung in clubs and at festivals overseas, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival and the Dubai Jazz Festival. She has appeared on NPR Weekend Edition twice with Susan Stamberg who said, “Based on the evidence, Judy Wexler can sing almost anything.”
 
Wexler has a sumptuous voice and approaches a song like an actress inhabiting a script. Eschewing vocal pyrotechnics, she focuses on lucid storytelling. She wields her formidable vocals chops, like her spot-on phrasing and sophisticated approach to melody, with great subtlety to capture the emotional essence of a song. In All About Jazz, Nicholas Mondello wrote, “She is balletic light on her vocal feet, dead-on with her pitch, and lyrically smooth. She probes emotional depth and returns gems without melodrama.” UK's Jazz Journal writes"An always engaging demonstration of contemporary jazz singing at its best."
 
BACK TO THE GARDEN is a departure from Wexler’s previous albums, which featured modern jazz songs and selections from the Great American Songbook with just a smattering of reimagined pop tunes. On this new recording, Wexler points her gaze to interpreting iconic, well-known pop/rock songs from the 1960s with reimagined arrangements.
 
Wexler says, “I was a bit young in the 60s to be completely aware of the great music coming out, but my older brother bought all the new records, and I have such great memories of hanging out in his room and listening to him play guitar and sing along with Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. I could feel the powerful messages of the music even if I didn’t fully understand the context. Music is truly a reflection of the times, and the music of the 1960s reflected the turbulence engendered by war, political protests, and the rise of important social movements like feminism and racial justice. Fifty years later, we’re still struggling with those issues and more. Although the arrangements of these iconic songs are new, I find their message of hope, love, and change as timely as ever.”
 
Wexler has been fascinated with the music of the era since 2010, when she created a show in Los Angeles she called “Back to the Garden.” She revised and updated the show in 2016 and was scheduled to do yet another one on her birthday in mid-April 2020 when the pandemic hit and all the music venues closed. Since live gigs were canceled for the foreseeable future, she decided to record an album instead.
 
Wexler brought on board her longtime pianist and arranger JEFF COLELLA, a consummate accompanist and improviser who toured for 16 years as musical director with the legendary Lou Rawls. He also toured the world with the Jazz Tap Ensemble for seven years, was the Musical Director for Jack Jones, and has worked with a host of top names like Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Sheila Jordan, Kenny Washington, and others. Colella plays piano, wrote most of the arrangements for BACK TO THE GARDEN and co-produced the album with Wexler. Pianist and composer JOSH NELSON also contributed two arrangements.
 
Wexler and Colella brought in several top musical artists from Southern California and beyond, including guitarist LARRY KOONSE, bass player GABE DAVIS, and drummer STEVE HASS, old friends with whom Wexler has performed and recorded before and who formed the core of the rhythm section. Colella’s arrangements are richly textured and multi-layered, and other players who added their distinctive voices are BOB THIELE, JR. on electric and baritone guitars, DANNY JANKLOW on alto sax, JAY JENNINGS (from Grammy-winning Snarky Puppy) on trumpet, and NYC-based harmonica master HENDRIK MEURKENS. Grammy-nominated violinist SARA CASWELL is featured on one song, and a string section comprising violinists JOEL PARGMAN and CARRIE KENNEDY, viola player RODNEY WIRTZ, and cellist STEFANIE FIFE perform in various configurations on three tracks. Vocalist ERIN BENTLAGE arranged and contributed layered background vocals on four tracks. Bentlage is a member of the vocal group säje, which snagged a Grammy nomination in 2021 for arranging.
 
The ten songs on BACK TO THE GARDEN are reflective of the tumultuous era of the 1960s. Wexler includes two songs by Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin',” one of the most famous protest songs of all times, and the sweetly hopeful “Forever Young.” “American Tune,” by Paul Simon, paints a picture of the struggles and weariness of the American experience that stands in stark contrast to the can-do attitude so often portrayed in the media. Stephen Stills was inspired to write “For What It's Worth” after the Hollywood curfew riots in November 1966. The riots were part of a series of counterculture-era clashes that took place between police and young people.
 
Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” is about destroying the natural world for the sake of commerce, while “Get Together,” made famous by The Youngbloods, is an appeal for peace and brotherhood. “Everybody’s Talkin’,” sung by Harry Nilsson in the film “Midnight Cowboy,” was written by Fred Neil and deals with the alienation of big city life and the desire to get away. “Up on the Roof,” by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, is another song about the need to escape the pressures of urban life. “Since You've Asked,” with its tender lyric, is the first song Judy Collins wrote. Wexler closes the album with “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” Sandy Denny’s meditation on the passage of time and ephemeral nature of life.
 
With Wexler’s fine-grained voice and heartfelt interpretations, the updated, modern arrangements, and superb musicianship, the music on BACK TO THE GARDEN is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago.
 
BACK TO THE GARDEN will be available on June 4, 2021 in stores and online everywhere. Distribution by A Train Entertainment.
 
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Edited by js - 26 May 2021 at 1:40pm
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