Phantoms may finally be the break-through album for composer and saxophonist Virginia Mayhew. It is a shame that she is not more widely recognized and appreciated. "Phantoms" continues along the path set of her excellent previous recording "No Walls," but this effort goes further to place this album among the higher echelons of contemporary jazz performances.
The overall sound might be described as muscular and full; individual contributions are both inventive and deliberate. There is hardly a wasted note or slight hesitation. It is a consummate band made up of Mayhew on saxophones, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn, Harvie S on bass and Allison Miller on drums. The overall tone is full-bodied and dark. If this were a wine, it would be a magnificently aged Brunello: complex, smooth, rich, subtle flavors, and scents of distant places and memories. "Phantoms" is a supreme artistic achievement.
While mournful in tone, it is never bleak. There is such humanity that emits from each of the band members. It is like a church choir singing a heart-felt spiritual recalling the depths of sorrow and suffering. The title track, written by Kenny Barron, resurrects the pain of a New York tragedy and celebrates the spirit and passion of healing music. There is absolute glory in the soaring strands of Mayhew’s saxophone and Jensen’s trumpet. This perfection is continued throughout the album.
‘I’m a Fool to Want You’ features Mayhew on soprano saxophone in an elegant dance with Jensen on trumpet backed by the amazing Harvie S and Miller. It’s a simple and graceful ballad that allows for individual variation. The result is that it is absolutely riveting with gorgeous detail and nuance. ‘Babble On’ feels like a bubbling conversation between two pals: persistently sardonic, sometimes outrageous, and sporadically quirky. Harvie S’s ‘Facil’ with its sexy Latin sensibility feels like a Carnival parade. You can almost see the bright flashy colors and flesh dancing proudly along down the avenue.
‘Dubai’ with its Middle Eastern flavor may be the supreme achievement of this album. There is supreme harmony amongst all four on this ghostly dance. Initially, Jensen steps out, then Mayhew, followed by Miller in their solos force you to focus on this eerie and extraordinary piece of music. This is followed the familiar Monk piece, ‘Rhythm-A-Ning.’ This band is that good to be able to put their distinctive stamp on this standard.
If Virginia Mayhew, Ingrid Jensen, Harvie S, and Allison Miller are playing a date in your city, take the recommendation and go hear them. Otherwise, listen to "Phantoms."