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Mark Murphy: Once to Every Heart

Hyperbolic as it may sound, I’d argue that Mark Murphy is incapable of making a bad album. In a recording career that spans five decades (next year marks the golden anniversary of his Decca debut, Meet Mark Murphy), nearly 50 discs and more than a dozen labels, the long-reigning king of vocal hipsterism has yet to deliver anything less than ingenious. Now at 73, when most singers have been reduced to a pale reflection of their former vibrant selves, Murphy reaches remarkable new heights (or perhaps depths is more accurate, given the album’s quietly contemplative moodiness) with his Verve debut.

Born out of Murphy’s understandable admiration for eerily Chet Baker-esque German trumpeter (and sometime vocalist) Till Bronner, Once to Every Heart began taking shape three years ago with no set play list, no blueprint: just singer and accompanists (Bronner on trumpet and flugelhorn plus pianist Frank Chastenier) in a Berlin studio. Acoustic bass, courtesy of Christian Von Kaphengst, and orchestral strings (under the direction of concertmaster Joris Bartsch Buhle) were subsequently added to six tracks. How stunning are the results? Suffice it to say that I consider this, in a year crowded with laudable releases, the single finest jazz-vocal album of 2005.

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