June 1980: Mark Murphy arrives for a gig at San Francisco’s landmark Keystone Korner. He’s savoring what is arguably the most satisfactory tract of his five-decade career. The days of hidebound labels trying to shoehorn him into a Sinatra or Andy Williams mold are a distant memory; his rollercoaster recording history has settled into a fulfilling groove, midway through a 14-year relationship with Muse; his creative fearlessness, on record and onstage, is fully unleashed.
Hardly surprising, then, that this newly excavated 60-minute set represents Murphy at his absolute finest and most limber, the sheer joy he takes in interpretive bending and twisting anchored by an unwavering sangfroid. Murphy proves, as expected, masterful at shaping a set list at once familiar and unexpected, supported by his then-regular pianist, Paul Potyen, and a trio of his preferred local players. He draws on the songbook of fellow vocal pioneers Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, making “Bijou,” “Farmer’s Market,” “Charleston Alley” and “Fiesta in Blue” uniquely his own. He nods to the bossa rhythms he loved with a swirling “Waters of March” and adds a few favorite standards, including Cy Coleman’s delightfully rapturous “You Fascinate Me So.” His “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is a loose-limbed, scat-trimmed tour de force. “Body and Soul” becomes a testament to insatiable hunger, emotional and carnal. The inkiness of his deep-aching “Blues in the Night” is matched only by an “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” chilling in the nakedness of its desire, the menace of it covetousness.