Mark Murphy is blessed with a magical ability to reinvent and repackage himself. From brash, young hipster to brazen pathfinder to sage elder statesman, he has managed to hold our rapt attention through each incarnation. No wonder, then, that he has outplayed and outlasted almost all of his peers, and is, at age 69, still at the top of his game. Aptly representative of Murphy's trademark eclecticism, Links is a satisfying marriage of old, new, borrowed and blue.
When Murphy's at the helm, standards are never standard. Dipping into the Strayhorn-Ellington songbook, he serves up a moody, melancholy treatment of "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," and blends "Daydream" and "In a Sentimental Mood" into a seven-minute salute to cautious pessimism. Lane and Loesser's "The Lady's in Love With You," so often bandied about like idle cocktail chatter, is seasoned with a dash of peppery cynicism. Similarly, "I'm Thru With Love," usually imbued with a hint of reckless hopefulness, becomes a suicidal swan song for a guy who truly has reached the end of his romantic tether.
If it all sounds a trifle heavy-hearted, don't despair. Murphy still knows how to have a good time, as evidenced by his playful romp through Mary Lou Williams' "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee" and his rush hour ride across Dave Frishberg's "Wheelers and Dealers."
Links also provides a welcome soapbox for Murphy the songwriter. His clever lyrics effectively enhance the subtle complexities of two superb Alan Broadbent compositions, and his teaming with Sean Smith for "Taming of a Rose" results in a dreamy lullaby that gently rocks the cradle of new love. Most impressive, though, is "Breathing," a bright and breezy affair with a Brazilian twist that's as refreshing as a summer samba.