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

Edward Blanco By

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Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth date of pianist, composer and arranger Mary Lou Williams, the Virginia Mayhew Quartet pays homage to one of the most unheralded, yet most important jazz figures of all time on Mary Lou Williams—The Next 100 Years. Presenting new arrangements of eight Williams compositions and two original blues charts, Mayhew directs a formidable quartet of veteran players and special guest, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon to make for a powerful quintet sound on several tracks.

A prominent saxophonist, well-known fixture on the New York music scene and Musical Director of the Duke Ellington Legacy ensemble, Mayhew came up with the idea for this concept album after discussions with Italian pianist Tony Pancella on tour in Italy 2009. Originally looking to produce a more modern version of the Williams sound, Mayhew realized the music had to contain certain elements of swing and blues as well. In response to her research, Mayhew decided to enlist the help of Dizzy Gillespie alumnus Ed Cherry, whose blues inflected style would address the blues side of the equation. With her long-time bassist Harvie S and New York drummer Andy Watson to round out her core quartet, Mayhew cements a strong foundation upon which she builds this special celebration tribute to the late legend.

Not recorded since 1977, "J.B.'s Waltz" kicks off the celebration on a bluesy note, followed by "Medi I" and "Medi II." Though sharing similar titles ("Medi" is short for Meditation), the two could not be more different, with the first possessing a boppish flair featuring Gordon and Mayhew, while the latter changes direction becoming a slow layered ballad on which the saxophonist and Cherry are key. "Cancer" is perhaps the album's most challenging piece of music containing various changes throughout its eleven and a half minutes duration.

Mayhew and crew deliver an excellent rendition of "What's Your Story Morning Glory," one of Williams' most popular compositions. The 1953 tune, "N.M.E." (also known as "New Musical Express"), keeps some of its bebop texture, while featuring the bassist on lead. This anniversary tribute concludes with "One For Mary Lou" and "5 For Mary Lou," two Mayhew blues compositions dedicated specifically to the arranger for this disc.

Virginia Mayhew's serpentine saxophone lines and Gordon's penetrating trombone serve to produce their fair share of big band swing and swagger on Mary Lou Williams—The Next 100 Years, creating a birthday gift of inspirational music perfect for a new generation to explore.

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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