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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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MARY LOU WILLIAMS

The next 100 years

Renma 6402CD

 

 

1. J.B.’s Waltz [5:27]; 2. Medi II [5:27]; 3. Medi I [7:57]; 4. O.W. [6:42]; 5. Cancer [11:30]; 6. What’s your story Morning Glory [7:46]; 7. N.M.E [3:08]; 8. Waltz Boogie [4:39]; 9. One for Mary Lou [5:39]*; 10. 5 for Mary Lou [5:40]*.

All compositions by Mary Lou Williams, arranged by Virginia Mayhew who also wrote those marked *.

Virginia Mayhew (tenor saxophone), Ed Cherry (guitar), Harvie S (bass), Andy Watson (drums), Special Guest Wycliffe Gordon (trombone).

rec. December 12, 2010 at Kaleidoscope Sound, New Jersey, USA, engineer: Randy Crafton. [63:56]

One of the greatest pleasures of reviewing for MusicWeb is discovering new composers and musicians so this disc is a double whammy in that I’d never heard of either Mary Lou Williams or Virginia Mayhew, so deep joy! Women in jazz have as difficult a ride as they do in classical music so perhaps that’s a reason I hadn’t come across the name of Mary Lou Williams before or, for that matter Virginia Mayhew. Women always have always had to go the extra mile to make an impact and even further to get deserved recognition. When you read who Mary Lou Williams wrote for or who performed her music it is unbelievable that her name is not as well known as Duke Ellington who said of her “Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary. Her music retains a standard of quality that is timeless”. The New York Times wrote “Mary Lou Williams sums up in herself the full essence of jazz”. This recording is the result of a project that took shape in 2009 after the Italian producer of a gig Virginia did in Italy requested music by a female composer and it was realised that 2010 marked the centenary of Mary Lou Williams’ birth. Born in Atlanta on May 8, 1910 as Mary Elfrieda Scruggs, Mary Lou Williams as she became known after she was married, was playing piano before she was 6 at parties for people with money. By the time she was married at 20 she was on the road with Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy, a Kansas City-based band for whom she was chief arranger and one of its star soloists for the next dozen years. Credited with penning hundreds of tunes, including some that are extremely well known, she was even commissioned by the Vatican in 1969 to write a mass (Mary Lou’s Mass). Her compositions have graced the repertoires of such bands as those of Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington and she was the musical mentor for such future greats as Bud Powell, Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. With a pedigree like that you would expect great music and that’s what you get here from Virginia Mayhew who has made some superb arrangements of MLW’s originals allowing them to take on a fresh 21 st century perspective which will enable a whole new generation to discover Mary Lou Williams’ unique musical view. The compositions and the arrangements are all so good I am at pains to pick any particular ones out but since reviewing is the push that becomes shove I can say that I especially enjoyed Medi I, a beautiful, slow, silkily sexy blues that showcases Virginia Mayhew’s gorgeous sax playing to perfection, What’s your story Morning Glory (also known as Black Coffee and recorded by as widely varied artists as Sarah Vaughn, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney and Bobby Darin) and the unusually scored Waltz Boogie written in a combination of 3/4 meter and boogie woogie that shows MLW’s continuing search for innovation. However, I must stress that every tune on the disc is brilliant and that includes Virginia Mayhew’s two specific personal tributes One for Mary Lou and 5 for Mary Lou. The playing on every track is really superb and each musician is a true star, with Ed Cherry’s guitar delivering a vital bluesy edge, some truly fabulous bass playing by Harvie S, inspired drumming from Andy Watson whose ability to caress with brushes is of particular note, while the guest trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is a very special ingredient indeed in those numbers he plays on producing sounds that at times are almost trumpet like, particularly on What’s your story Morning Glory. All in all this is a twofold winner in that it enables us to get to know a brilliant and underrated composer and a wonderful saxophonist in one supremely enjoyable album – I loved it!

Steve Arloff



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