Simply put, Mark Murphy is one of the great jazz singers. His musical gifts remain prodigious, his depth of expression a model for all who practice this art, his recordings reside in the treasure trove of vocal jazz.
On his current recording, Bop for Miles
, Murphy is in top form, ebullient and able to carry off any idea with ease. Herein, though, lies the problem. When he unleashes the full scope of his musical talent without tether to his expressive side, too often the songs suffer, losing their individuality and their shape. This is an odd tribute to Miles, a player who, no matter the tempo or mood, always sang a song. Take, for example, "Summertime," devoid here of the song's inherent pensiveness as well as the sting of Miles' classic Gil Evans-arranged performance. A successful homage need not be a slavish imitation of the original, but shouldn't that model be more than just a passing reference?
There are times where all facets of Murphy's genius shine through, as on "Bye Bye Blackbird," not a distinguished composition, though one that Miles relished. So too does the singer, especially in a brilliant scatted passage, reminding us of his preeminence in this area. "On Green Dolphin Street" likewise receives its due, unfolding into a lovely samba that illuminates Bronislaw Kaper's gorgeous melody. "Parker's Mood," on the other hand, which weds Charlie Parker's indigo blues to King Pleasure's elegiac lyric, is too offhand to convey the song's intrinsic pathos. The second elegy, Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" (with the Joni Mitchell lyric, not the more incisive one by Roland Kirk) does not fare much better.
Mark Murphy is a great singer, exemplified by his exceptional musicianship, deep understanding of and projection of lyrics, a keen understanding of his voice and how to use it, and the sound of surprise. He is a risk taker, a singer who can execute the most dazzling passage, without losing the story. When these elements all work together, what a joy. When they do not, it is still interesting, and still musical as he proved over four nights last month at Birdland.
Track Listing: 1 All Blues 6:44
2 Summertime 4:08
3 Autumn Leaves 3:35
4 Bye Bye Blackbird 6:03
5 On Green Dolphin Street 7:22
6 My Ship 3:10
7 Farmer's Market 7:30
8 Goodbye Pork Pie Hat 5:01
9 Parker's Mood 5:48
10 Milestones 5:25
11 Miles 2:59
Personnel: Vito Lesczak: Drums;
Peter Mihelich: Piano;
Mark Murphy: Vocals;
Allan Praskin: Saxophone;
Achim Tang: Bass.
Title: Bop For Miles
| Year Released: 2004
| Record Label: HighNote Records