Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mark Murphy: Live in Athens, Greece

Harbinger Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Live in Athens, Greece

Unless you’re a longtime jazz fan — and likely a senior citizen, to boot — you probably haven’t the foggiest notion who Mark Murphy was. That’s a shame, because he’s one of the finest male jazz vocalists who ever lived. 

But he was born too soon (in 1932), and performed during a period when vocalists of his gender were crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Bing Crosby, Mel Tormé and the many others who were all the rage. A few, usually later in their lives, were
indoctrinated into the jazz world — most notably Sinatra and Tormé — but nobody ever reached the skill level that Murphy occupied during his entire career.

It was a long one: He died in 2015, and had performed his final concert just two years earlier. And although the general public likely wasn’t aware of his prowess, iconic jazz musicians and vocalists knew and worshiped him. When he performed or recorded, he had his pick of artists eager to back him. Murphy also was prolific, recording more than 50 albums. The last one released during his lifetime was 2013’s A Beautiful Friendship: Remembering Shirley Horn.

This “new” album was recorded live in 2008, at the Gazarte Club in Athens, Greece, but has just now become available.

Murphy’s performances were unique, in that he melded his songs together, moving from one to another without waiting for applause. He also added lyrics to and between them, to provide a steady flow of words and thoughts. If lyrics didn’t exist, as is the case with many jazz tunes, he created his own. His scatting was phenomenal, with and without actual words. 

In retrospect, that may have been a cause for Murphy’s relative lack of popularity: He often was described as “eccentric,” when in fact he was far, far ahead of his time. He paid no attention to the original intent of meter; he’d transform a ballad into a barn-burner. 

The 11 tunes here include all genres, and Murphy makes them all swing like crazy. Get ready for a genuine treat.

Oh, how I miss him. 

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