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Mark Murphy: Love Is What Stays

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Musically speaking, Mark Murphy couldn’t misstep in a minefield on a moonless night. Throughout his half-century progression from startlingly innovative hipster to sage elder statesman, Murphy has never stumbled, never faltered and never failed to continuously raise the bar for every jazz vocalist in the business.

In recent years though, Murphy has allowed age to catch up with him-not in performance quality (the vocal vigor and elasticity of his youth may be gone, but the weather-beaten weariness that now replaces them is just as artful and enticing) but in terms of mood and shadings. His previous Verve release, 2005’s Once to Every Heart, was filled with the sort of backward-glancing, contemplative tunes that signal the winding down of a life well-lived, the nearing end of a long road along which every turn, bump and detour has been heartily embraced.

Love Is What Stays, recorded in Berlin in tandem with German genius Till Brönner (who served as producer and sometime arranger, as he did on Every Heart, and contributes stellar trumpet, flugelhorn and brass work to several of the 13 tracks), finds Murphy venturing further down the same path. He revisits the past with a sinisterly cunning reworking of “Stolen Moments” (considered Murphy’s signature song ever since he augmented the abstract beauty of Oliver Nelson’s melody with his own, equally vivid, lyric) and an achingly knowing “Angel Eyes” (first recorded by Murphy in 1961 for his landmark Riverside release Rah). He recalls his beat poet days with “The Interview,” a richly veined exercise in free association rumination. He mulls fading glories and regrets with nakedly heartbreaking readings of “Once Upon a Summertime,” “Did I Ever Really Live” and “Too Late Now” (the latter dedicated to the sadly curtailed passion at the heart and soul of one of his favorite films, Brokeback Mountain).

Then, just when you think he’s got you in the grips of septuagenarian remorse and reflection, he does a complete about-face, shifting noirish romantic disillusion into the digital age with his “Blue Cell Phone,” and looking ahead to the possibility of future risks and rewards with Coldplay’s “What If.”