CD REVIEW: Mark Murphy Wild and Free: Live at the Keystone Korner


Mark Murphy Wild and Free: Live at the Keystone Korner
(HighNote HCD 7310. CD Review by Peter Jones)


1980 was a year of transition for the restless Mark Murphy. At the time he was contracted to Muse Records, whose boss Joe Fields went on to found HighNote. Murphy’s Satisfaction Guaranteed album had recently been nominated for a Grammy – his first ever sniff at the award – whilst recording for the landmark Bop for Kerouac was still nine months away. In the interim he was working with musicians from his adopted home town of San Francisco and playing to enthusiastic local audiences, many of whom had first discovered him during his long residency at a bayside bar in Tiburon, just across the bridge in Marin County. So when Murphy played the Keystone Korner in San Francisco’s North Beach in June 1980, he must have felt he was on familiar ground.

The Keystone was often used for the recording of live albums, and in this case, we are treated to a varied and fascinating set that reflects the broad sweep of Murphy’s career up to that point: he’d been performing Body And Soul since the Fifties, whilst he had only just recorded I Return to Music for Satisfaction Guaranteed. In between, his brief but fruitful stint at Riverside Records is represented by the ballad Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most (from Rah), and Blues in the Night (from That’s How I Love the Blues), and there are three selections from his successful Stolen Moments album for Muse – the vocalese Farmer’s Market, with Annie Ross’s lyrics, Jobim’s Waters of March and the bouncy Don’t Be Blue, written by Michael Franks.

The musical daring we associate with Mark Murphy is very evident here: I’ve Got You Under My Skin – a song so familiar that jazz musicians refer to it merely as ‘Skin’ – sounds positively ominous: it’s played slow, accompanied for almost the entire tune only by Peter Barshay’s doleful double bass, playing two notes an octave apart. Blues in the Night is an object lesson in the effective use of dynamics, building from slow blues to a hollerin’, high-steppin’ climax, at last fading out with a couple of long, lonesome a capella train hoots from Murphy. Drummer Jack Gobetti frequently drops out, allowing the singer to develop routines with bass or piano.

Bebop tunes that Murphy had first heard in the Fifties via Lambert, Hendricks and Ross – Farmer’s Market, Charleston Alley and Bijou – are also included in this set. And his love of themed medleys is represented by two of them: It Might as Well be Spring/Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most; and Laugh Clown Laugh/Send in the Clowns. Lovely rippling piano from Paul Potyen introduces Laugh Clown Laugh, followed a minute later by Murphy’s snapping fingers, whereupon Barshay plays Send in the Clowns, again with no other accompaniment.

The recording quality is fine, although I could hardly detect percussionist Babatunde Lea at all.

Peter Jones’s This Is Hip: The Life of Mark Murphy, will be published in 2018 by Equinox.

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