You've got to give singer Mark Murphy credit for hanging in there. After toiling for three decades or so in the jazz vineyards with moderate but never really spectacular success, he continues to give his heart to the sounds and rhythms he calls the music of life.
Thursday night at the Vine St. Bar & Grill, Murphy belted, scatted, grooved and catted his way through a set of tried-and-true jazz standards, adding a sprinkling of Brazilian songs for seasoning. Never all that surprising--Murphy is not the kind of performer who makes one sit up with a gasp of amazement--he nonetheless managed to create a comfortable atmosphere in which the sharing of his love of jazz was the most important element.
Murphy was at his best, for the most part, on the up-tempo and Brazilian numbers. A brisk reading of Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" and a soaring improvisation across the chords of "All the Things You Are" firmly established his ability to build excitement even better than Pontiac does.
Two Brazilian pieces by Ivan Lins--the first a brightly rhythmic samba, the second a surprisingly thoughtful ballad--were equally appealing.
Murphy's other ballads, however, left a bit more to be desired. "You'd Better Go Now" and "Let Me Love You" were good programming choices, but poorly executed, in part because of an excessive reliance on long, held notes, as well as an extremely eccentric microphone technique.
One wonders, too, why a performer who relates so well to an audience can't do a better job of selling the lyrics--as well as the stories--of his ballads.
Murphy's rich, distinctive baritone voice continues to be as good as any in jazz today, but its impact would benefit enormously from a more intimate connection with the meaning behind his songs.
Murphy continues at the Vine St. through tonight, with shows at 9:15 and 11:15.