Oscar Peterson Trio & the Singers Unlimited: In Tune (MPS)
Mark Murphy: Midnight Mood (MPS)
Founded in 1968, Germany’s MPS label was home to an enormously wide mix of jazz, covering everything from swing to ethno jazz and including such giants as Kenny Clarke, Dexter Gordon, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald. Now, remastered versions of some of MPS’ finest albums have been reissued, including two vocal releases that are equally sublime yet different as day and night.
Oscar Peterson was already an MPS artist when he urged the signing of the Singers Unlimited, the sterling vocal group that included former Hi-Lo’s Gene Puerling and Don Shelton alongside Len Dresslar (the “ho-ho-ho” voice of TV’s Jolly Green Giant) and the foursome’s sole female, Bonnie Herman. Though known primarily for a cappella work, enhanced by Puerling’s intricate experimentation with multi-tracking, for 1971’s In Tune they teamed with Peterson and his then trio-mates, bassist George Mraz and drummer Louis Hayes. Their silken blending extends across an intriguing set of covers, ranging from the bright bounce of the Sesame Street theme to the soft romanticism of “The Gentle Rain” and reflective moodiness of “It Never Entered My Mind,” “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Here’s That Rainy Day.” Most intriguing are two wordless tracks, the Singers floating atop the playful, Vince Guaraldi-esque lilt of Jobim’s “Children’s Game” and Patrick Williams’ easy-strolling “Catherine.”
Like so many of his vocal contemporaries, Mark Murphy was struggling in the late 1960s, jumping from label to label for scattershot projects that garnered little attention. Best among them is 1968’s Midnight Mood (actually released on SABA, which became MPS), vital connective tissue bridging Murphy’s progress from Sinatra-styled crooner to the most boldly dynamic vocalist of his generation. Split between covers and originals, 10 tracks feature several other MPS artists—drummer Clarke, pianist/arranger Francy Boland and bassist Jimmy Woode—plus various horns, including Jimmy Deuchar on trumpet and Ronnie Scott on tenor saxophone. Murphy puts his unique stamp on “Alone Together,” “My Ship,” “Jump for Joy,” “You Fascinate Me So” and a funereal “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” He masterfully explores the blithe resilience of Woode’s “I Don’t Want Nothin’”; the bossa-fueled heartache of his “Sconsolato”; and the slithery skulk of his “Just Give Me Time,” which the bassist wrote with Boland. Murphy contributes two tunes, the chilling “Hopeless” and, co-written with Deuchar, the self-actualizing “Why & How.”