Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

400

Mark Murphy at Blues Alley, Washington, DC

By

Sign in to view read count
His vocal palate is not constrained by time or key signatures, bar lines, or conventional musical phrases. These are merely elastic and fluid concepts to be utilized as expressive components in an ever expanding concept of fearless original artistry.
Mark Murphy
Blues Alley
Washington, DC
July 11, 2007

I may not be the most aggressive advocate of Blues Alley, but the intimate eighteenth-century carriage house in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC has been host to countless jazz legends for over forty years. The lackluster food, indifferent service and an increasingly commercial booking agenda can easily be a disincentive to all but the most intrepid jazz listener. However, it remains one of the few venues in the city where vocalist Mark Murphy can perform in relative comfort and intimacy. In a rare, and one-night appearance last week, Murphy assiduously displayed a panoply of vocal acrobatics and, in so doing, proved that he remains arguably the finest jazz singer in the business.

As is often the case at Blues Alley, those who attended the mid-week performance exhibited respect toward the artist and consideration toward the other members of the audience. But I've also attended a weekend show when, despite requests from club management to the contrary, audience members' conversation interrupted the listening experience. I vividly remember a Saturday evening show with Larry Willis/Buster Williams/Ben Riley where, not ten feet from the stage, a large group celebrated a birthday, loudly singing greetings and completely ignoring the performers on the stage. Thankfully, the crowd was hushed last Wednesday evening, and Murphy rewarded all of us with a heartfelt performance of great depth.

Age naturally transforms the vocal timbre. A great artist acknowledges the inevitable changes, grasps the involuntary alteration thrust upon him, and creates a different vocabulary in the context of the already established palate. Murphy has done so with considerable dexterity. His current tone is like a nearly burnt caramel, rich and dark in color, with a luxuriant texture and deep expressivity. In short, Murphy only gets better with every passing year.

Aided by his frequent pianist, Joshua Wolfe, and a band consisting of the best local players, Murphy began the first set with "Twisted," made famous by Annie Ross' lyric to Wardell Gray's solo. Murphy effortlessly jumped from articulated words to falsetto scatting and back. He held the microphone close to his lips, and moved it suddenly up and down; back and forth; gestures emphasizing his already astounding dynamic control.

Murphy explained that the next song was first introduced by "Alfalfa in The Little Rascals. There was nothing juvenile, however, in his delivery of "I'm Through with Love." Accompanied by only the piano, Murphy slowly meandered through the lyric, his voice infused with a hopeless and world- weary resignation. When the remaining portion of the rhythm section joined, their contribution was tasteful and unobtrusive, freely following Murphy's liberal phrasing. Bassist James King and drummer Nasar Abadey are frequently collaborators throughout the city, in Abadey's Supernova ensemble and in other noted groups. The result, as was evident on this particular night, is a symbiotic understanding of one another.

Murphy launched into Hoagy Carmichael-Johnny Mercer's "Skylark," again singing the opening as a duo with Wolfe. He breathed the opening stanza—"Is there a meadow in the mist? Where someone's waiting to be kissed? —but suddenly stopped. He paused—then continued by reciting a seemingly extemporaneous idea: "There she is, in a meadow, waiting. What is she waiting for? The trolley doesn't go there anymore. The meadow has been sold to the mall, and will be tarmac'ed in a year. She is waiting to be kissed. Brave girl... His voice trailed off, and the song continued, heartbreaking in its expression, utterly free with the bar lines. Murphy's allusion to present-day commercialism seemed to suggest the original idealistic quest is in vain: Mercer's plea to the songbird, "Won't you lead me there," replaced by the realization that it no longer can.

Local trumpeter Thad Wilson reminds one of Freddie Hubbard in any number of ways. Their facial expressions when playing are not dissimilar, and Wilson's stance with the flugelhorn is almost imitative. Moreover, Wilson's tone owes an obvious debt to Hubbard's lush and forceful playing. Perhaps this is why Murphy announced, "And now a trip to the 70's... when introducing Hubbard's "Red Clay," successfully recorded by the vocalist and a part of Murphy's repertoire since Mark Murphy Sings (Muse, 1975). The group established an appropriate and effective funk groove, and Murphy responded with an infectious delivery of one of his signature tunes.


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read We Jazz: Moveable Feast Fest Theory Live Reviews We Jazz: Moveable Feast Fest Theory
by Josef Woodard
Published: December 16, 2017
Read We Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews We Jazz Festival 2017
by Anthony Shaw
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Anat Cohen Tentet at SFJAZZ Live Reviews Anat Cohen Tentet at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy 2017 Live Reviews Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy 2017
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: December 15, 2017
Read Jazztopad Festival 2017 Live Reviews Jazztopad Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Vivian Reed at Feinstein's/54 Below Live Reviews Vivian Reed at Feinstein's/54 Below
by Tyran Grillo
Published: December 12, 2017
Read "Lance Canales & The Flood At Biscuits & Blues" Live Reviews Lance Canales & The Flood At Biscuits & Blues
by Walter Atkins
Published: June 27, 2017
Read "Lloyd Gregory And Tony Lindsay at Biscuits & Blues" Live Reviews Lloyd Gregory And Tony Lindsay at Biscuits & Blues
by Walter Atkins
Published: December 22, 2016
Read "Ted Ludwig Trio at Little Rock's South on Main" Live Reviews Ted Ludwig Trio at Little Rock's South on Main
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 28, 2017
Read "Sue Rynhart at The Cresent Arts Centre" Live Reviews Sue Rynhart at The Cresent Arts Centre
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 15, 2017
Read "Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens" Live Reviews Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens
by Geno Thackara
Published: February 15, 2017
Read "The Comet Is Coming at Black Box" Live Reviews The Comet Is Coming at Black Box
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 8, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!