There’s something about a tenor sax that’s just special. Range, richness of tone, certainly, but maybe there’s something to how the instrument is played. Virginia Mayhew does the instrument justice as she and her quartet present Mary Lou Williams – The Next 100 Years (Renma Recordings, 2012).

Mayhew is accompanied by Ed Cherry on guitar, Harvie S on bass and Andy Watson on drums. Special guest Wycliffe Gordon plays trombone on selected tracks. The ensemble celebrates 2010 as the 100th anniversary of the birth of songwriter Mary Lou Williams.

The set begins with “J.B.’s Waltz,” a swinging blues piece written in 3 / 4. Williams was among the first jazz musicians to play in anything other than 4 / 4. Written for her half-brother, Jerry Burley, this rendition features solos by Mayhew, Cherry and Watson. Regardless of who’s out front, or even if the ensemble plays as a whole, Harvie S holds it together on the bass.

“Medi I” and “Medi II” were written in the 1970s for Williams’ Zoning. The title is short for “meditation.” In this set, the numbers are reversed, with “Medi II” preceding “Medi I.” The former is a lively tune that features the blend of tenor and trombone during the melody. The latter is a slow, brooding blues piece with Cherry setting the tone. The bass line and subtle drum and cymbal textures add depth.

Mayhew has been an active participant in the New York jazz scene since 1987. She has played with many artists and as a leader at many festivals around the world. Discography includes six as a leader and many others performing with other artists.