Judy Wexler: Back To The Garden

Fine singer turns early pop classics from Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan and others into fluid jazz songs


Unusually for this fine singer, the set list on this, her sixth album, draws neither on the jazz repertoire nor the Great American Songbook. Instead, Judy Wexler has selected pop songs from the 1960s, but in her performance steers them skilfully into jazz territory.

As in other decades, matters of fundamental concern were the subject of some pop songs, spotlighting anti-war protests, racial injustice, the advent of feminism and widespread disillusion that was always tinged with hope that change was in the air. But that was then and this is now, so why has Wexler chosen these songs? Because, as she says, “fifty years later, we’re still struggling with those issues and more”.

Wexler’s interpretations are buoyed by the core quartet of Jeff Colella, Larry Koonse, Gabe Davis and Steve Hass, who are joined on four tracks by Bob Thiele Jr., and there are some good piano and guitar solos. On four tracks, one or more of the five string players appear and this collective instrumentation allows arranger Colella to present the singer with interesting variations in the ensemble sound.

Mostly, the songs are taken at a relaxed tempo with some lightly swinging moments hinting at Latin influence. Wexler has chosen songs by Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi), Paul Simon (American Tune), Fred Neil (Everybody’s Talkin’), Judy Collins (Since You’ve Asked), Bob Dylan (The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Forever Young), Sandy Denny (Who Knows Where The Time Goes) and Gerry Goffin-Carole King (Up On The Roof). All of these are familiar and Wexler’s interpretations are particularly pleasing because she not only turns them into fluid jazz songs, but her crystal-clear diction and subtle phrasing drives home those original messages set out by the lyricists. Thoroughly enjoyable, and especially for those with long memories.

Get Together; Up On The Roof; American Tune; Big Yellow Taxi; The Times They Are A-Changin’; Since You’ve Asked; For What It’s Worth; Everybody’s Talkin’; Forever Young; Who Knows Where The Time Goes (45.16)
Wexler (v) with Jeff Colella (p, melodica, arr); Larry Koonse (g, elg); Gabe Davis (b); Steve Hass (d); guests Jay Jennings (t on Who Knows Where The Time Goes); Danny Janklow (as on Big Yellow Taxi); Hendrik Meurkens (hca on Everybody’s Talkin’); Bob Thiele (elg); Sara Caswell, Joel Pargman, Carrie Kennedy, (vn); Rodney Wirtz (vla); Stefani Fife (clo); Erin Bentlage, Talley Sherwood, Colella (bkgnd v). Glendale, CA, August-September 2020.
Jewel City Jazz JCJ 1214