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Vocalist Nancy Kelly considers the many talents of singer and lyricist Mark Murphy on a 10-track set that pays tribute to his legacy in a heartfelt manner. Avoiding outright imitation, she wisely focuses on the distinctive and stylistically diverse repertoire the late singer cultivated. The results are uniformly compelling.
Kelly’s vocal skills are varied and highly honed. Her sense of phrasing is particularly arresting. She can extend a note to the breaking point, delighting in the tension while toying with her impeccably employed vibrato. Histrionics have no place in the singer’s stylistic inventory. She keeps her cool even when a slow-burn sensuality insinuates its presence. Kelly explores the nuances of lyrics as intently as a jeweler inspects a world-class gemstone.
Trumpeter Randy Brecker contributes to Kelly’s reads of Milton Nascimento’s “Vera Cruz” (a.k.a. “Empty Faces”); “Red Clay,” the Freddy Hubbard classic for which Murphy penned lyrics; and the evergreen “Body and Soul.” Brecker had recorded these same three tracks with Murphy, and his solo on “Red Clay” is exhilarating. Keyboardist John DiMartino, the session’s producer and arranger, provides an endless flow of delicate pianistics that perfectly complement Kelly’s frosty vocal forays. Other riveting takes include Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,” replete with Murphy’s crafty lyrics; and “Sunday in New York,” a rarely performed dazzler by pianist Peter Nero that was a Murphy specialty. The album’s most magical moments unfold on “Again,” a bluesy ballad from 1948. With an R&B-style backbeat, Kelly’s at her most evocative. Add a smoldering electric guitar solo by Paul Bollenback, and the take will seduce even the most jaded listener.— Mark Holston