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Mark Murphy: Live in Athens, Greece

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It’s hard to imagine more disparate vocalists than Shirley Bassey and Mark Murphy, but Greek guitarist Spiros Exaras, the driving force behind this 2008 club date, insists in the liner notes that among myriad gigs with international headliners only Bassey has mesmerized him like Murphy had. By the time Murphy made his journey to Athens, for a three-night residency at the Gazarte Club, his health was rapidly failing. Remarkably, it is near impossible to detect the slightest hint of infirmity across this 75-minute set.

Superbly supported by Exaras, two more Greek players-bassist George Georgiadis and drummer Alex Drakos-and German pianist Thomas Rueckert, Murphy is firing on all cylinders, gleefully exercising his unbounded imagination, inimitable thrust-and-parry style and outsize interpretive genius. Even when he calls out a cigar-puffing patron, his admonishment is seamlessly enwoven.

The playlist, all jazz standards, is well-traveled Murphy fare, extending from “My Funny Valentine,” “Summertime,” “On Green Dolphin Street” and a loose, rollicking “Bye Bye Blackbird” to his beloved Jobim, via a gorgeous entwining of “Inútil Paisagem” and “Dindi.” Around the 45-minute mark the session reaches its pinnacle, with Murphy aligning his noirish “Miles” with a joyously unhinged “Milestones,” capped by his funky refitting of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay.”

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