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duaneiac

Midnight Mood -- Mark Murphy

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Mark Murphy remains one of my favorite male jazz singers.  I can appreciate that his style was not for every one and that he probably turned off a lot of potential listeners with some of the peculiar extremities of his style of singing.  The one time I got to see him perform, he seemed either wryly resigned to or secretly proud of the fact that half of his audience did not return after intermission, saying something like, "Now we know who the real hip folks are".  I admit there are moments on some of his records where even I am puzzled by some of his vocal flourishes and embellishments.  But at his best and when everything -- singer, material, arrangement, backing group -- clicked, he was a fantastic singer.

This record, recorded in 1967, found Mr. Murphy in a setting in which everything clicked indeed.  Backed by an octet made up of members of the Kenny Clarke - Francy Boland big band,  Mr. Murphy, his voice in excellent golden, velvety form, makes his way through Mr. Boland's arrangements with assuredness and agility.  The album begins with the old (and possibly outdated by 1967) Duke Ellington number, "Jump For Joy".  Mr. Murphy kicks off the song (and the album) acapella, which allows the listener to soak in the sheer beauty of his voice.  When the band comes in, Mr. Murphy glides right along with them leading into a delightful scat chorus that emphasizes this song is about joy. 

Another winning track is Mr. Murphy's performance of the not-quite-love song, "You Fascinate Me So".  Again, the opening allows listeners to hear the sheer beauty of his singing voice.  Mr. Murphy starts out by singing this song fairly straight (if you'll pardon the expression).  There is a Kenny Clarke drum break, which under other circumstances feels like it might have been a lead-in to a Basie style, big band swing chorus of the melody, but this is Mr. Murphy's album and the arrangement keeps the focus on his voice as the primary solo instrument.  Mr. Murphy takes the tune a little further out in this section, offers up a few swooping Mark Murphyisms which work quite well in this hipsterish tune.  Another break in the song and Mr. Murphy brings things back to the bare banes setting in which he started, singing the melody pretty much as intended, save for one more well placed swooping Murphyism (and notice where he chooses to place it; as Horace Silver said, "Jazz Has a Sense of Humor").  Then he brings the song in for a smooth landing that sounds like it would be right at home sung by Buddy Schmaltz and the SchmaltzTones Now Appearing in The Grotto Room of the Hideaway Lodge, but Mr. Murphy makes it sound smooth, sexy and hip.  Not even Sinatra himself could have nailed this landing better.

But what about ballads, you may ask.  The album is called Midnight Mood, so shouldn't there be some soft ballads on there somewhere? Well, there are ballads, but I would not exactly call them soft.  The album concludes with "I Get Along Without You Very Well", but in this setting, with Mr. Boland's piano serving as a kind of dull, persistent ache, Mr. Murphy seems to drop the brave false front of the lyrics choosing to present a 2 AM dark night of the soul moment.  If you've ever been there, done that, this is powerful stuff.  Like it or not (I quite like it), Mr. Boland's arrangement here shows he spent some time thinking about this song, what it says and how best to communicate to others what he feels the song is about.

This is not only one of Mark Murphy's finest albums, I would include it in a list of "Essential Vocal Jazz Recordings", were I foolhardy enough to compile such a list.  If you have sampled some Mark Murphy before and felt he was just not your cup of tea,  you might do well to give this album a chance.  If you can't dig him here, you might never dig him, but at least this album showcases his vocal skill & style at its best.

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Duane, this too is a favorite of mine.

Have you thought of nominating it for an Album of the Week thread?

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Superb album hands down ....

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Agreed. One of his best.

This album closely mirrors Mark's album and worth checking out if you can find it. Recorded a couple of years earlier, includes Sconsolato and Just Give Me Time.

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I was glad when it finally was reissued on CD. Excellent album. Great singer, great band.

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