Virginia Mayhew has a tenor saxophone sound so big that it had me wondering if she was born in Texas. But there’s a New York sophistication to that Texas Tenor demeanor, that allows for all sorts of subtleties. She also plays soprano sax, and her tone on the straight horn, whether warm and rounded, or pinched and piercing, resonates with the noble lineage established on the instrument by Bechet, Lacy, Shorter, et al. She also writes and arranges like nobody’s business.
The tremendously talented musicians she’s gathered for this, her second disc, energize these tunes in performances that are electric with excitement. Sharing the front line with Mayhew is Ingrid Jensen, a superb trumpeter whose chops and ideas make her every appearance eagerly anticipated. She and Mayhew complement each other with the kind of panache that comes from deep mutual empathy and respect. Bassist Harvie Swartz has a sound like a redwood tree, jutting its presence proudly into the blue sky, while pianist Kenny Barron constructs his solos like an architect of color and space. (His reflective, romantic intro to "Never Enough" sidles into a beautifully-delivered melody statement, after which Mayhew displays her to-die-for tenor sax tone.) Allison Miller has a fine sense of coloration on drums, using her toms and cymbals in unexpected ways; on an uptempo treatment of Dave Holland’s "The Oracle," she tends a slow back flame that burns just as hot as that of the frontrunners. Adam Cruz lends hot percussion work (check out what he does on the opening of "The Visit We Missed") and interlocks perfectly with Miller.
While the title track has moments of near-mystical enchantment, Duke Ellington’s "Don’t You Know I Care" is done in a masterful piano/tenor duet, with Mayhew investing the tune with so much authority you’d think she’d written it herself. Barron’s composition, "Mythology," kicks with sly humor, and slowly-evolving mood changes that are quietly dazzling. As is the disc as a whole - this is, quite simply, a fabulous gem of an album.