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Virginia Mayhew Quartet: Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years

Dan McClenaghan By

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Saxophonist Virginia Mayhew is a rare forward-looking jazz artist who doesn't mind looking back. She leads the Duke Ellington Legacy, responsible for the superb Thank You Uncle Edward (Renma Recordings, 2007) and Single Pedal of a Rose (Renma Recordings, 2012). Now she honors Mary Lou Williams (1910-1983) in this tribute to the groundbreaking pianist/composer/arranger's one hundredth birthday.

Williams could be considered underrated, but there are efforts to remedy that: pianist Geri Allen recorded a quartet version of a Williams' tribute with Celebrating Mary Lou Williams (Intakt Records, 2011), and more recently Sumi Tonooka offered up "Mary Lou Williams Medley," a thirteen-minute highlight on her marvelous solo piano outing, Now (ARC Records, 2012).

Now it Mayhew's turn, with Mary Lou Williams—The Next 100 Years, featuring the saxophonist's arrangements—for quartet and quintet—of eight Williams' tunes along two Mayhew originals inspired by Williams.

Mary Lou Williams was a product of and creator of big band swing. Virginia Mayhew knows a thing or two about swing, and a thing or three about the blues. Guitarist Ed Cherry, who played with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie from 1978 until 1992, enhances those qualities of the music, beginning with his light, floating chords on "J.B.'s Waltz." Mayhew's tenor has a robust sound that is as soulful as can be, and bassist Harvie S and drummer Andy Watson round out the extraordinarily cohesive rhythm section.

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon joins the core quartet on "Medi II," a sizzling up-tempo minor blues. The group goes deeper into the blues on "Med I," a tune that sounds as if it were played after midnight, after most of the crowd had gone home, with Mayhew's horn singing of a haunted sadness. "What's Your Story Morning Glory" has a similar mood. It is perhaps Williams best-known tune, under the title "Black Coffee." Words to the 1940-penned tune were added by Jack Lawrence in 1948, and has been recorded by scores of singers, most famously by Peggy Lee. Trombonist Gordon contributes and growling plunger mute solo early, giving way to Mayhew, who again goes deep down into her soul, while Cherry's guitar adds a hint of hope to the mood.

Mayhew wraps the set up with two originals inspired by the music of Williams: the up-tempo "One for Mary Lou," that modernizes the classic sound and features trombonist Gordon catching fire; and "5 for Mary Lou," with the sax searching for Williams' spirit around Harvie S' bouncing bass lines and Cherry's chiming guitar, wrapping up a superb exploration of the legend's music.

Track Listing: J.B.'s Waltz; Medi II; Medi I; O.W.; Cancer; What's You Story Morning Glory; N.M.E.; Waltz Boogie; One for Mary Lou; 5 for Mary Lou.

Personnel: Virginia Mayhew: tenor saxophone; Gordon Wycliffe: trombone (2, 5, 6, 9, 10); Ed Cherry: guitar; Harvie S: bass; Andy Watson: drums.

Title: Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Renma Recordings

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