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 WilliamsThe Next 100 Years
, featuring the saxophonist's arrangementsfor quartet and quintetof 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.