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Mark Murphy: Live in Athens, Greece

Dan Bilawsky By

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No figure in jazz personified hip the way that the late Mark Murphy did. For more than half a century he taught the world what it meant to be a true artist, pushing boundaries, walking the tightrope, and going where he pleased. He had it all—wit, charm, guile, good taste, a pure improviser's spirit, a flexible and powerful voice—and he willingly shared it.

Murphy remained current and above the trend-based fray(s) for most of his career, starting before and with Rah (Riverside, 1961) and That's How I Love The Blues (Riverside, 1963), continuing with a string of classic albums for Muse in the '70s and '80, and lasting all the way up to and through a pair of Till Bronner-produced triumphs on Verve in the new millennium. He was a touchstone and totem for the entire vocal jazz community during much of his life, and his influence didn't end with his passing. Murphy may have left this world in 2015, but his spirit still hovers in the air and rests within the minds and voices of everybody he encountered.

Live In Athens, Greece presents previously unreleased material recorded during a three-night stand at the titular locale's Gazarte Club in April of 2008. It's Murphy at his off-the-cuff finest. If you're looking to hear him in his strongest voice and/or at his most polished, go someplace else. But if you want to stare at quicksilver and command in human form, this is the place to do it.

This playlist suggests safety, with Murphy and company sticking to the classics, but the execution and elocution tell a different story. Murphy was never one to repeat himself, so even lifelong favorites and signature statements—"Milestones," "On The Red Clay," "On Green Dolphin Street"—sound fresh here. Things aren't perfect—pianist Thomas Rueckert's rippling piano current fails to shift on the mark with bassist George Georgiadis near the outset of "All Blues," Murphy has to verbalize a request for the next chord during "When I Fall In Love/My One And Only Love," some vocal gymnastic displays don't end with flawless dismounts—but issues like that are of little consequence. Those earthly concerns are rendered mute when Murphy sweeps you up into the stratosphere.

Minor miscues aside, the band does a fine job following, mirroring, and/or directing the action. Featured guitarist Spiros Exaras and Rueckert each prove to be tasteful accompanists and more-than-capable soloists, and Georgiadis and drummer Alex Drakos keep things swinging. Exaras likens the experience of working with Murphy to "sailing in the Aegean Sea, where you can expect Sirens to tempt your sensations, Icarus to fall from flying in extreme heights, or a gaze from Medusa that will turn you into stone." Such a statement, fixed to mythology, seems more than fitting. Murphy was larger than real life, and this album reminds us of that fact.

Track Listing: My Funny Valentine; All Blues; On Green Dolphin Street; Summertime; Autumn Leaves; When I Fall In Love/My One And Only Love; Bye Bye Blackbird; Miles; Milestones; On The Red Clay; Intuil Paisagem/Dindi.

Personnel: Mark Murphy: vocals; Spiros Exaras: electric guitar; Alex Drakos: drums; George Georgiadis: acoustic bass.

Title: Live in Athens, Greece | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Harbinger

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