A preface to this review is order. I’m something of a curmudgeonly customer when it comes to jazz vocals. I can readily dig on classic (and admittedly popular) singers such as Holiday, Fitzgerald, Vaughn, Simone and so on. But when it comes to male vocalists, not only are the numbers comparatively smaller, but the pool of contenders seems to my ears spread far thinner. A few notables, such as Bill Henderson and Johnny Hartman, come to mind but even these illustrious crooners had their share of off days. The human voice may be the most complex of all musical instruments, but it’s been saddled with the greatest number of clichés, particularly when it comes to jazz singing.
With his latest recording (according to the liners his 32nd!) Murphy hasn’t made a complete believer out of me, but he makes a convincing argument nonetheless. There’s a smoky after hours ambiance to both his delivery and that of his backing combo that dispenses with triviality early on and concentrates simply on playing from the collective heart. Racy, bop-inflected numbers like Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark” are interspersed with darker, more ruminative offerings such as the velvety reading of “With Every Breath You Take. There’s even a rollicking rendition of the old Jazz Messengers classic “Mosaic” that ignites along a trail of melodic gunpowder sown by Ballou’s ballistic brass.
Across all of the tunes Murphy receives sensitive and supple accompaniment from his sidemen. Mezquida sometimes sounds reticent to blow in tandem with Murphy’s lyrics opting more frequently for background shading between the leader’s choruses. Musiker, who handles the musical arrangements, fronts the rhythm section with a firm, but flexible hands. LaSpina and Smith alternate bass chores, but both players match well with Harper’s sensitive brushes and mallets.
Though he favors a brand of scat singing that wobbles and falters a bit into indulgent repetition, Murphy can’t be faulted for an absence of sincerity. He wears his emotions on his proverbial sleeves, doling them out in honest increments to all that will take the time to listen. The naked emotiveness comes to a melancholy head on the closing medley, where Murphy laments a solitary existence spent in the absence of love.
Murphy is a seasoned veteran and as such he’s long since surpassed the need to prove himself. The security of both of his position and his artistry is conveyed handsomely through this recording and make it recommendable even to those (such as myself) who might be a tough sell.
Tracks:There’s No More Blue Time/ Peacocks/ Bohemia After Dark/ With Every Breath I Take (from “City of Angels”)*/ You’re My Alter Ego/ Life’s Mosaic*/ Some Time Ago*/ That Old Black Magic/ Medley: Why Was I Born, I’m a Fool To Want You*.
Players:Mark Murphy- vocals; Dave Ballou- trumpet; Allan Mezquida- alto saxophone; Lee Musiker- piano/arranger; Steve LaSpina- bass; Sean Smith- bass*; Winard Harper- drums.
Recorded: December 27-28, 1999, NYC, NY.