During the course of this live album, Mark Murphy observes that "everything old is becoming new again. Even me, folks." Certainly, the 68-year-old singer shows no signs of slowing down. He recently won the 2000 Downbeat Magazine Reader's Poll as Male Vocalist of the Year, and he finished second in the voting for the Hall of Fame. In a genre that usually measures the gap between records in years, Mr. Murphy has released two CDs in 2000, Some Time Ago
on the HighNote label and this collection, The Latin Porter
, on Ben Sidran's Go Jazz label.
The Latin Porter functions as three records in one. It is an excursion into the rhythms of Latin music, it is a collection of Cole Porter tunes, and it is a live album. Mark Murphy throws himself into all three aspects of the recording with his typical enthusiasm. Mr. Murphy is the rare singer of whom it can be said that he demonstrates enormous sophistication and little subtlety. While he clearly respects Cole Porter, his approach to the material here is hardly reverential. Mr. Murphy stretches,twists and reinvents the tunes in often surprising ways. His highly extroverted scat singing, although very creative, can seem over-the-top depending on the listener's perspective. Mr. Murphy is an enormously effective interpreter of lyrics (as he demonstrates on a seductive "In the Still of the Night") although one prone to occasional flights of hipster fancy (as on "Get Out of Town"). At times his musical and interpretive ideas are greater than the limits of his voice, which nevertheless remains an appealing, if frayed, instrument. He also has a wonderful rhythmic sense that serves him well on the album's nicely varied Latin textures.
The rhythm section and trombonist/arranger Al Bent all have extensive experience in Latin music. Fortunately, they do not make the mistake of trying to turn the album into a Celia Cruz recording. The marriage of the Cole Porter tunes and Latin rhythms works because all of the musicians involved maintain a sense of balance and respect for both sides of the equation. To that end, the presence of Tom Harrell as featured soloist helps to ground the record. Mr. Harrell's pristine, ethereal playing contrasts nicely with Mr. Murphy's more aggressive singing.
The salsa-flavored "Looking at You" is the most successful realization of the album's concept. However, it is the closing song that best expresses the guiding principle behind Mark Murphy's work here and throughout his five decades long career – "Experiment."
Personnel: Mark Murphy: vocals; Tom Harrell: trumpet; Peter Schimke: piano; Esther Godinez: percussion, vocals; Mark Van Wageningen: bass; Daniel Gonzalez: drums; Al Bent: trombone