Virginia Mayhew's sixth recording as a leader is a triumph on several levels. She is playing her tenor and sometimes soprano saxophone as well as she ever has. Many of the compositions she performs with her septet have been reinvented from previously recorded efforts. The band mixes meters, tempos, and sonic deliverance at once direct and succinct. But more than that, Mayhew is a breast cancer survivor, and her hiatus away from music for recovery has energized her music to a higher level. Top-rank musicians like bassist Harvie Swartz, saxophonist Lisa Parrott, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and percussionist Mayra Casales make many notable contributions. Lesser-knowns such as trumpeter Scott Harrell, trombonist Noah Bless, and guitarist Kenny Wessel more than uphold their end; in fact they may project more than the bigger stars. Drummer Victor Jones shines brightly above everyone, one of the true unsung heroes of rhythmic navigation, and the force that keeps this ensemble on its toes. The remakes in Mayhew's repertoire include the rockin' 7/4 blues "Sandan Song," featuring Parrott's baritone sax; the dour-titled but quickly waltzed "Spring Is Not Here" with Mayhew on soprano; the modal "Apple Flambé," where Bless sets a tone reminiscent of Curtis Fuller and Wessel digs in on clarion calls to hard bop; and the lightest of bossa refrains signifying the poignant "Live Your Life." Most arresting is Mayhew's remake of Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning," sporting a great funky 7/8 riff that springs forth fresh and alive via the unison horn lines. It's a showstopper. Mayhew's past and substantive work with the Diva big band is quite evident during the expansive "Just a Blues," an 11/8 workout that is more bluesy than straight blues, complex but fun, even a bit slick, and a showcase for Mayhew as well as Parrott's alto. But there's more when Casales adds Latin percussion to the hard-driven call-and-response horns on the giddy samba "One for the Parking Fairy" and "Live Your Life." As you listen, you realize there's a lot to love about life, as well as this offering from Mayhew, which must rank at the top of her discography, so far.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos