This is about the coolest cover art you'll ever see on a CD: Saxophonist Virginia Mayhew in blue tones, as bald as an egg (cancer treatments), in partial profile, eyes closed, in an apparent state of repose. She looks like a sleek android discovered in arctic ice. Cool as hell.
The music on Mayhew's fifth CD, A Simple Thank You
, is every bit as cool as the cover art. There's nothing android-ish about Mayhew's step into arranging, writing and playing for a larger ensemble than she used in her previous CDs, Phantoms
(Renma Recordings, 2003) and Sandan Shuffle
(Renman Recordings, 2006). This is zesty, four horn front line, mainstream stuff, full of the joy of life.
Mayhew has kept her rhythm section from her Sandan Shuffle
disc, with guitarist Kenny Wessel adding a crispness to the ensemble sound. And there's lots of inspired soloing all around, beginning on the opening number, Mike Mayhall's high octane "Just a Blues," where reedist Lisa Parrott starts the proceedings with a killer turn on alto sax (she plays baritone elsewhere) in front of Wessel's singing chords. Mayhew takes her turn next. She is a stellar soloist who has been compared to Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins, but the time for comparisons is over. Her playing is robust and clever and the voice is very much her own.
Mayhew's original, "One For The Parking Fairy," showcases her Latin side, with bold soloing by trombonist Noah Bless and a burst of percussion from guest Mayra Casales, teamed with drummer Victor Jones, that sounds like ten coffee pots perking hard and hot over a roaring high flame.
Bassist Harvie S contributes the title tune, the gentle and lovely "A Simple Thank You" that includes moving solos by Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Mayhew on tenor sax, along with a bass solo by Harvie S that sounds like it's saying "I love you."
Mayhew revisits a few tunes from Sandan Shuffle
, the catchy, high energy title tune from that disc (and if you're not up out of your seat playing air saxophone during Mayhew's solo, you've got no feel for jazz), the plaintive "I Thought You Loved Me," and Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning," giving the composer a chance to spiff her previous efforts up nicely with more horns.
The "more horns" mode was rolling for Mayhew back in 2005 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She had to put plans for a CD on hold for a bit. So this, her finest work to date, was postponed. But it's here now, sounding exceptionally vibrant.
Downbeat Magazine has tagged Virginia Mayhew a "rising star,' but it seems to me her star has risen, high in the sky. A Simple Thank You
is mainstream jazz at its most marvelous.