UNLIKE so many pop and jazz vocalists who stick to the tried and true in the studio with lackluster results, Mark Murphy clearly gets a charge from surprising his audience and, one suspects, even himself.

His new album, "Beauty and the Beast," opens with a recitation of the title poem (composed by Murphy) before sliding into a sensuously Latin Wayne Shorter melody that bears the same name. Equipped with a Murphy lyric, the melody has a terrifically sunny nature, enhanced by the singer's vibrant scat vocals and trumpeter Brian Lynch's radiant tone. It's hardly the best thing the album has to offer but it's a delightful start.

Truth is, the album's real joy lies in standards like "I Can't Get Started." Although the tune may seem an obvious choice, the arrangement Murphy has chosen is strikingly original and beautifully understated, complete with the oft-neglected opening verse and the bluesy, simpatico strains of Lou Lausche's violin. Other highlights include "Doxy" and "Along Came Betty," two jaunty melodies (composed by Sonny Rollins and Benny Golson, respectively) that seem to fall naturally into Murphy's scat cadences and sound fresh as can be. MARK MURPHY --

"Beauty and the Beast" (Muse MR 5355). Appearing at Cates through Sunday.