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Mark Murphy at The Iridium, NYC

Martin Longley By

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Mark Murphy
The Iridium
New York, New York
October 4, 2007

Most folks would probably deem Mark Murphy a bit of an eccentric figure, but it's this very individuality that has marked him as one of the most distinctive jazz singers in the music's history—not only his voice but his whole storytelling persona, his demeanour and delivery. Is Murphy in the throes of early senility, so abstract is his poise? Or is this, as has always been the case, his naturally "stoned" persona, the epitome of hipness and laid-back cool? Don't worry about his apparent inability to find his comb: Murphy's sharp rhythmic command belies a man who knows where things are...

So he might shamble distractedly onstage, but in the end, he's always there at the right moment, directing his young quartet in improvised arrangements, as pianist Misha Piatgorsky fulfills the role of sensible coordinator, assisted by bassist Hans Glavisim and the always-in-motion drum/percussion team of David Rokeach and Gilad Dobrecky. This band exists to frame Murphy, at least while he's actually singing. Between verses, they're allowed to roam more freely. Straight off, Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" is turned into a dialogue with the audience, riddled with amusing asides, as Murphy holds court from his stool.

The set-list has a definite Brazilian bias, even if it's in a roundabout way, connecting Cole Porter's influence on Tom Jobim with a "I've Got You Under My Skin" conceived in Rio. Elsewhere, the Brazilian connection is more direct, with songs either associated with or composed by Ivan Lins, Elis Regina, Sergio Mendes, Milton Nascimento and Jobim himself. Murphy also deconstructs Stephen Sondheim, having his way with words by breaking melody into narrative, interjecting mid-line sprechstimme, or sing-speaking, with a musicality that smudges the boundary between talk and croon.

Unfortunately, the gain on his microphone was turned up too loud, at least in relation to the band, which had the effect of exaggerating volume swoops and sabotaging dynamically-shaped phrases demanding more subtle negotiation. Murphy was at his best when moving the microphone both in and out, but some of his scatting would have sounded better if it hadn't been so uncomfortably loud.

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