Judy Wexler: Under a Painted Sky

Perhaps it’s her training as an actress, but there’s a marvelous clarity about Judy Wexler, both in terms of her immaculate phrasing and intonation and in her ability to strip a song, any song, to its bare essence, fully capturing its spirit and soul without an ounce of pretense or affectation. Her vocal disposition is naturally sunny and expansive, rather like the perennially underappreciated Doris Day, which doesn’t preclude Wexler from effectively shading heartbreakers like Abbey Lincoln’s “And How I Hoped for Your Love.”

Lincoln is one of a handful of heroes whom Wexler salutes throughout Under a Painted Sky. Commemorated too are Blossom Dearie, Shirley Horn and Jeri Southern with, respectively, a tender “Don’t Wait Too Long,” a perspicacious “The Great City” and a sly “An Occasional Man.” But the most intriguing nod is to Carmen McRae, with the gorgeously melancholy “Last Time for Love,” an obscure McRae composition that richly deserves such adroit recrudescence. Additionally, Wexler re-imagines the decades-old Johnny Mathis hit “Wonderful, Wonderful” as a carefree ode to joy, snuggles “Till There Was You” in folds of sweet satisfaction, deftly navigates the cool curves of “Whisper Not” and closes with a stunningly tranquil reading of Gary McFarland’s “Sack Full of Dreams.”

Equal credit for the album’s excellence must go to Wexler’s longtime pianist and arranger, Alan Pasqua, who, as the Nelson Riddle to her Sinatra, is exceptionally skilled at making the luminous Wexler that much brighter.