Since releasing her 2005 debut album, Easy on the Heart (Jazzopolis), Judy Wexler has carved out a jewel-like niche as a gracefully swinging singer who brings penetrating insight to American Songbook-adjacent material often overlooked by her colleagues. Her fifth release, Crowded Heart, finds her radically expanding her purview with a program of songs by contemporary jazz musicians, and each track offers a tantalizing map for other singers to follow.
She mines the work of her peers for much of her best material, like the briskly grooving samba jazz opener “Circus Life,” a jaded vision of the rat race by fellow Los Angeles singer Luciana Souza (with Larry Klein and David Batteau) introduced on her 2009 album Tide. The powerhouse Danish jazz vocalist Sinne Eeg (with Mads Mathias) supplies the aching title track, a portrait of life with a married lover set to a gorgeously contoured melody that briefly recalls Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks.” British vocalist Georgia Mancio’s bereft lyric for Alan Broadbent’s noir-inspired “The Last Goodbye” is another gem. Filled with regrets, second thoughts, and backward glances, these are songs that evoke adult emotional terrain (likewise with Wexler’s calmly amorous take on René Marie’s “Take My Breath Away”).