How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Saxophonist Virginia Mayhew goes with the pianoless quartet on Phantoms, her third CD as a leadera format that allows the space and freedom for the band to stretch out. They make the most of the opportunity.
Without the comping and chording of the piano, each of the four instrumentalists has to contribute to keeping the music alive and vibrant. The biggest drawback to this format is the potential for a lack of texture; but Mayhew's Phantoms has the intricate weave that comes from a band that has worked together. One word: arrangementsa solist steps out front, the backing unit shifts, changes gears, disperses or closes ranks, supplying nutrient rich undercurrents to the melody.
Miles Davis's Nefertiti keeps coming to mind, not because of the sax tone (Mayhew's is round and robust) or Ingrid Jensen's trumpet/flugelhorn sound, neither of which resemble the Shorter/Davis combobut because of the subtle textures, the churning undercurrents.
The other dramatic impression is the emotion the band brings to the tunes. The sax/trumpet cries on Cole Porter's "I Love You" evoke a yearning, combined with an uneasy ambivalence concerning that thing called love; and "I'm a Fool to Want You" dredges up all the bitter melancholy associated with unrequited longing.
A nicely paced and balanced set, full of facinating reed/brass conversations. A breakout effort by Virginia Mayhew.