Jazz Vocals

Murphy's Law (Part 2)


In my last post I covered vocalist Mark Murphy's early records, Rah! and That's How I Love The Blues! Now we'll look at the two late-'80s releases Concord has made available, September Ballads and Night Mood.

Night Mood, recorded in 1986, was Murphy's debut album for the Milestone label and showcases Ivan Lins, the Grammy-winning Brazilian composer who writes melodies that are as technically challenging as they are beautiful. The then 54-year-old Murphy is in fine voice, singing in Portuguese as well as English.

Murphy's rhythm section is Azymuth, a Rio De Janeiro-based jazz/funk trio who are stars in their own right in Europe and South America. They call their musical style "Samba Doido," or "Crazy Samba."  Here they tone down the crazy but not the energy, giving Murphy a solid, stylistically authentic base to explore the genre. Murphy also enlists alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, a Charlie Parker protégée and another Rio native, trumpeter Claudio Roditi.

The title track is a haunting ballad with a melody that swoops with leaps of nearly an octave. The sounds of keyboardist Jose Roberto Bertami's Fender Rhodes and bassist Alex Malheiros' Jaco-like tone give Murphy's voice a smooth, feathery cushion that recalls the best of that era's Latin/Jazz fusion. "Love Dance" is hands down one of the sexiest songs ever written, with lyrics that perfectly describe the fall-down-the-rabbit- hole feeling of new love and that first kiss.

September Ballads evokes that autumnal wistfulness that descends when the air begins to chill and we recall summer pleasures. Murphy's deep well of emotion elevates the material and his breath control, tone and phrasing are even more masterly at his own autumn stage of life.

Murphy has always had an impeccable eye for material and the composers he interprets here range from Pat Metheny and Chick Corea to the whimsical and under-rated Michael Franks. Adding his own "Sausalito" is a nice touch, a love note by the Bay Area resident to his adopted home.