Mark Murphy
In New York

By Martin Longley

Most folks would probably deem Mark Murphy a bit of an eccentric figure, but it's this very individuality that as marked him out as one of the most distinctive jazz singers in the music's history, not only in his voice alone, but in 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 it always used to be, his naturally 'stoned' persona, the epitome of hipness and reclined cool? Don't worry about him not being able to find his comb: Murphy's sharp rhythmic command belies a man who knows where things are at...

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 exist to frame Murphy, at least while he's actually singing. Between verses, they're allowed to roam more freely. Straight off, 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 I've Got You Under My Skin, conceived in Rio. Elsewhere, it's 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, sing-speaking with a musicality that smudges the boundary between talk and croon. Unfortunately, his microphone's turned up too loud, in relation to the band, which has the effect of exaggerating volume swoops that should be more subtly negotiated. Murphy is doing his best to float the microphone both near and far, but some of his scatting would sound better if it wasn't so uncomfortably loud.
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