John Murph

John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.

Singing about one's imminent death requires a certain level of delicacy, because it's way too easy to dive into melodramatic gloom. But Sonnymoon's "Just Before Dawn" — in which Anna Wise's ethereal vocals float across Dane Orr's palpitating soundscape as she contemplates mortality — takes on a more hopeful, universal tone. "Every night, you should have someone to hold," Wise sings, "to tell you that you did okay when your mind is against you."

Soon after Michael Jackson's death in 2009, many of his songs popped up on jazz albums. While French violinist and composer Scott Tixier doesn't provide a forthright makeover to "I Can't Help It" — a Stevie Wonder-penned ballad from Jackson's Off the Wall — he does interpolate its Brazilian-tinged bass line in his captivating "Elephant Rose."

Like many musicians who've come through Cuba's music conservatory, 26-year-old pianist Alfredo Rodríguez displays ferocious virtuosity on his splendid debut, Sounds of Space. Underneath all the firepower, though, lies a remarkable composer who knows how to pull back from the razzle-dazzle and play a piece that's more memorable for its melody and arrangement than for his awe-inspiring technique.

On Kenny Garrett's enthralling new album, Seeds From the Underground, the iconic alto saxophonist pays tribute to some of his significant lodestars. While he doesn't name any specific musician as the touchstone for "Welcome Earth Song," the track unquestionably recalls Pharoah Sanders' majestic Impulse! Records sound.

Johnathan Blake is the ultimate modernist. As a drummer, he's as comfortable steering ensembles led by jazz veterans such as trumpeter Tom Harrell and saxophonist Oliver Lake as he is providing the pulse beneath rapper Q-Tip and deep-house diva Monday Michiru. Old-school strategies, though, still seep into Blake's music, as illustrated by the fetching "Canvas."

Maintaining an artistic identity while interpreting Kate Bush's music is a chancy venture: With her emotional lyrics, theatrical flair and intricate arrangements, Bush leaves a powerful imprint on everything she writes. So it's especially triumphant when jazz singer Theo Bleckmann gives an enthralling reading of her classic "Love and Anger" on Hello Earth, his new album of Bush covers.