By Don Heckman
It was a real pleasure to return to Vitello’s Saturday night, after spending more than a year in Oregon, away from one of our favorite music rooms.
Since our return, the E Spot Lounge is a considerably remodeled version of the original venue. But no problem there. Although the stage has been moved to a different position, it now provides a prime view from all of the seating. Add to that the fact that the new room is an acoustically agreeable environment for a broad range of musical combinations.
On Saturday, the combination was the amiable vocalizing of singer Judy Wexler, backed by a four piece rhythm team. And the results were first rate.
In Wexler’s riveting program, memorable sounds of the sixties and seventies were brought vividly to life in a group of songs that surely triggered many memories to those listeners (this one included) who remembered the originals.
Backed by a sterling band that included pianist Jeff Colella, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dan Schnelle, Wexler presented more than a dozen tunes reaching back to the decade from 1965 to 1975. Between songs, she enhanced the music with a narrative, written by Alan Wexler, that recalled a rich diversity of historical events from the period.
The mood was also set by opening and closing appearances by a shapely, but unnamed go-go dancer.
Wisely, Wexler did not attempt to replicate the originals. Her greatest creative strength as a singer has long been her ability to interpret a song from her own perspective.
And that approach worked particularly well with the diverse program of material for this event. When Wexler sang “Up On The Roof,” she gave it her own twist, bypassing Carol King. And her interpretations were right on target. The same was true of other songs. There was no flavor of Joni Mitchell in “Woodstock,” of Paul Simon in “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” of George Harrison in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” or of Janis Ian in “At Seventeen.” But a lot of Judy Wexler.
An expressive interpretation of classic songs performed by Judy Wexler and her musicians, blending perfectly with Alan Wexler’s historical notes. Call it a fine contemporary musical recollection of a memorable era in American popular music. Hopefully Judy will offer this production in other locations.