The jazz world is littered with the stories of brilliant but ultimately discarded geniuses. Greg Murphy pianist, swore his will not be among them. Though it easily could have been. And almost was.
Rewind. After several months of study with Ellis Marsalis in Chicago in the early ’80s, and a couple years of performances under his belt, Murphy moved to New York to find his way as a performer. He hit the ground running, proving he could play with the best of them. But it didn’t take long for the reality of a hardscrabble life in jazz to sink in. The city ground him down, sweeping him up in an underworld of homelessness and addiction. Years of struggle ensued.
Fast forward, now, to the resurrection.
Today, with his too-human episodes behind him, he is back and so is his brilliance. The promise he showed in Chicago and in his early years in New York has re-emerged. His new music, Bright Idea, is the sound of a major talent, a resilient, defiant iconoclast, finally ready for his time in the spotlight.
An epic trio recording made with Jeff “Tain” Watts and Eric Wheeler, Bright Idea comes together in a way that embraces all of the places Murphy has been, from his grinding, intensive study in New York, his time in New Orleans with Ellis Marsalis, his pop-funk days in Chicago, and his Latin jazz work with Raphael Cruz. It is a well and fully rounded musical adventure, rife with dimension and color, and his most fully realized recording yet. At this point in his career, we are happy to expect no less.
Recorded, produced and arranged by Murphy, Bright Idea features mainly originals, with a few exceptions including the opening Pharrell Williams tune “Happy.” With Watts and Wheeler alongside, Murphy achieves an energetic vitality on the session, especially on tracks like the newly discovered Coltrane composition, “Untitled Original 11383,” a twelve-bar blues, and Joe Ford’s “Earthlings.” But throughout the album there is generosity, reciprocity and the desire to make memorable and triumphant music.
Bright Idea, Greg Murphy’s second Whaling City Sound project and fifth overall, is pure and beautiful, his strongest statement as a leader and his most beautifully played collection of stories. Fully back and in complete command, Murphy can now swing with the best. He has come out from the dark side and into the light, now destined, even determined, to find his proper place in the pantheon of jazz piano.