Legendary Mark Murphy and Spiros Exaras Jazz It Up in newly minted CD
by Athena Efter
A few years back, Spiros Exaras, a renowned jazz guitarist and composer, produced a show and performed with the late Mark Murphy at one of Athens’ hottest spots, the Gazarte Club. And now, Spiros brings this rare and remarkable experience to us by preserving it on one simple compact disc, Mark Murphy…Live from Athens Greece Featuring Spiros Exaras, and just in time for Greek Independence Day on his own independent label. Recorded and mixed by renown sound engineer Costa Kostopoulos this is one piece of history much more easily transported. You don’t have to move the Elgin Marbles to hear it. You can just pop it into your computer, like I did, and enjoy “American Rembetika” straight from Greece.
Spiros Exaras is no ordinary purveyor of music. I listened to the CD he performed and produced with Mark Murphy. I was pleasantly surprised at the new discovery of this well-travelled legacy, less commonly known to mainstream jazzers like me. With his own talent, Mr. Exaras truly pays homage to soulful, “move with it” singer who passed away last year on October 22, 2015. He captures the essence of jazz as it is meant to be performed, enjoyed, and understood. And Spiros Exaras, a great musician himself, knows his music and his jazz.
When I think of Jazz as a musical genre, several artists come to mind, like the obvious John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dizzie Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Wynston Marsalis, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Thelonius Monk… These are the notable highlights to my untrained and uninformed ears. Thanks to Spiros’ devotion to bring an unsung hero right up to the Acropolis, perhaps as a beautiful gift to the statue of Athena, the patron of the arts, I got to know him too. Jazz is a territory of music with which I am only peripherally familiar. Nonetheless, I do enjoy it when I hear it, but I want to understand why. I want to understand jazz better and the underplayed “iconic-ness” of Mark Murphy, a six time Grammy nominee, whom the Washington Post described as “a daringly original jazz singer whose unchained improvisational style made him a cult favorite and a powerful influence on a generation of younger performers.”
Greece has given birth to a golden new era of Jazz musicians, and leading the way for this original and true American art form, is Spiros Exaras. He hails from Greece, where he studied guitar and music composition at the Athens Conservatory of Music. Spiros, who is drawn to a variety of musical genres, primarily, jazz, rock and world music, brings this passion and appreciation into his own jazzy world beat. He brings a breath of fresh air and unencumbered freedom of movement to it with his own interpretation. It’s all the droplets of rainwater flirting on my window sill. It’s all the sun peeking through a meadow of lazy clouds on a warm spring day. It’s seductive and enticing. It’s an oasis of sultry lounge.
In 1999, Spiros formed his own ensemble of international and domestic talent to work and collaborate with renowned musicians Henry Hey, Matthew Garrison, Gene Lake, Arto Tuncboyaciyan and Lefteris Bournias. He keeps the talent grooving and “all music” moving with his own world beat symposium. It’s “all music” in there, and they perform it all at numerous jazz venues and festivals around the world throughout the year. They have already released two albums under their own “blue note”, and now, with a third one on the way, March 25, with Mark Murphy, I can only look forward to more of Spiros’ productions of highs and lows, singing or playing it, to all shades and colors of blue tones.
But for now, I’m perfectly content to kick back on the couch, listen to Mark Murphy, Spiros Exaras, or both, performing together, and chill out with a big bold red or a soft mellow white in the “summertime, when the living is easy.” Well, it’s not summer yet, but I’ll be listening to this fantastic compilation of talent and music anytime any season hits me, and “when I fall in love, it will be forever….”, just another timeless and classic hit that came as a pleasant surprise on the CD. And all it took was one CD to help me rediscover and fall in love with jazz all over again, or maybe, in my case, finally fall in love with it. It’s one great old school jam with Mark Murphy, Spiros Exaras and members of his ensemble, and this genre’s most talented musicians jazzing it all up together. “It’s all (the) music” that would make Duke Ellington proud. And when I think of that list of jazz greats, I can’t forget to add Mark Murphy and Spiros Exaras to the top of that list. Thanks for the gift Spiros. It’s all music to our ears when you bring us the whole world “singing the blues”, even if the Greeks started it all.