Virginia Mayhew's previous recording, No Walls (Foxhaven, 2000) , introduced the saxophonist in a big way to the jazz public. It was her third recording overall, being preceded by Nina Green (Chiaroscuro, 1997) and It's Time for Virginia Mayhew (Philology, 1996). Ms. Mayhew has established herself at the forefront of tenor/soprano saxophonists and composers and rests on the edge of greatness. Her saxophone style is made up of generous portions of Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, and Charles Lloyd. She is a facile composer, steeping her compositions with wit and humor while remaining dead serious about her duty to the music.
Virginia Mayhew's new recording, Phantoms, picks up where she left off with No Walls. She continues to loosen her approach to performance, providing focused and flowing music that never falls into excessive post bop freedom. Rather, her invention is lightly but securely tethered to her vision. Joining her on this recording are longtime associates Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn, Allison Miller on drums and Harvie Swartz on bass. Together, this band produces some of the most memorable contemporary post bop in recent memory.
The disc opens with a breezy "Phantoms," composed by Kenny Barron, Mayhew's associate and mentor. The performance is totally integrated, while affording all band members ultimate freedom. This same airy approach is employed on the disc's centerpiece, "I'm a Fool to Want You." Mayhew shows off her soprano-ballad chops with Miller tastefully providing a minimum of percussion and Swartz a beautifully constructed arco accompaniment.
Here, however, is where Ingrid Jensen shines the brightest. She and Mayhew are of one mind on this the longest piece on the recording, clocking in at just over ten minutes. "Babble On" showcases Mayhew on tenor and a muted Jensen performing in an older, more gospel-inflected style. The song begins with a lengthy duet introduction. By the time the whole band has joined in, the song transitions into some very smart bebop, Mayhew sounding a bit like Wardell Gray married to Dexter Gordon.
The remaining standard on the recording is by Monk. Mayhew provides a delightfully different "Rhythm-A-Ning," presented in her singular voice. The time is sideways, even for a Monk tune, but very effectively so. Mayhew approaches this Monk tune with a creativity bordering on Steve Lacy, as opposed to than Wynton Marsalis. It is this spirit that makes this recording a necessity.
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