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Mark Murphy Love Is What Stays Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

A luscious listen on a lonely night, but keep the razor blades well out of reach...

Kathryn Shackleton 2008

There aren’t many 70-something jazz singers who have such youthful-sounding vocal cords as Mark Murphy. On Love Is What Stays the American king of vocalese puts them through their paces on a string of ballads, as he contemplates the passing of time.

Murphy's signature tune, "Stolen Moments" (featuring his words and Oliver Nelson's music) is at the core of Love Is What Stays, and it intertwines itself with the other tracks on the album. First, it's a heavy-swinging small band feature with vigorous scatting by Murphy and a fade-out ending, then it fades back in 9 tracks later. Meanwhile, a piano-vocal duet version of the same piece pops up halfway through the CD. Ever theatrical – is this Murphy's way of seeing his life flashing before him?

Continuing his navel-gazing, Murphy heads into another original, "The Interview", that starts as a jazz poem. Tinkling piano and birdsong accompany the singer’s prayer-like musings on past and future, and poetry turns to scat against Nan Schwartz's urban-sounding orchestral score and Peter Weniger's sinuous soprano sax.

Producer Till Bronner's cool brass features throughout Love Is What Stays, from his soaring flugelhorn on a finger-clicking "Angel Eyes" to his mournful muted trumpet on Johnny Cash's "So Doggone Lonesome". The Cash track is a highlight. A wonderful country blues taken super-slow, it's the perfect vehicle for Murphy's spaces, slurs and extended notes, which take the song from deep melancholy to wry humour.

One of Murphy's disciples, Kurt Elling, has recorded a great take on "My Foolish Heart", but Murphy's version here compares well (and includes an appearance by US sax master Lee Konitz). Both feature surprising vocal leaps and a fascination with taking lyrics apart, but the older man has the advantage of a voice that sounds as though it’s been aged in oak.

Coldplay's "What If" is an interesting choice, but at 7 minutes long it's too repetitive to work well as a ponderously slow vocal. A film-noir "Once Upon A Summertime" hits the mark, though, with a mischievous edge and a triumphant feel, Nan Schwartz's string arrangements filtering easily through the small group sound.

A luscious listen on a lonely night, but keep the razor blades well out of reach...

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