On Keeper of the Flame, Tim Mayer, a Bostonian who now calls Mexico home, leads a sharp, swinging group of like-minded amigos on a (mostly) octet studio date enriched by Diego Rivera's colorful arrangements. Mayer plays tenor sax on half a dozen tracks, soprano sax on "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Get Organized," alto flute on "Elusive." Mayer's tenor spans a bridge from early John Coltrane to George Coleman, Joe Henderson, Bob Mintzer and other post-bop patriarchs with a dash of Jerry Bergonzi and Chris Potter thrown in for added flavor.
The ballad "Blame It on My Youth" is a duet (Mayer, bassist Rodney Whitaker), "Blackbird" a trio (with drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. added), while the other tunes showcase the octet. Mayer wrote the well-grooved "Blues by Four" and rough-hewn "Get Organized" to complement engaging themes by Coltrane ("Naima"), Jimmy Heath ("Big P"), Cedar Walton ("Hand in Glove"), McCoy Tyner ("Passion Dance") and the ensemble's trombonist, Michael Dease ("Elusive"). "Big P," "Hand in Glove" and "Passion Dance" are old-school burners encompassing fiery solos by Mayer, Whitaker, Dease, Owens, pianist Miki Hayama and alto saxophonist Adam Rongo. Whitaker is a tower of strength in the rhythm section, while Owens and Hayama (replaced on "Elusive" by Emmet Cohen) easily toe the mark.
"Big P" leads things off in free-flowing style, followed by "Blackbird," "Hand in Glove," "Blame It on My Youth," "Blues by Four" and "Naima," the last taken at a brisk pace that suits it well. Although the diaphanous "Elusive" is entered next on the album's playlist, it actually follows "Get Organized" and precedes the ardent finale, "Passion Dance," wherein Mayer fashions the last of his valorous tenor solos, and Rongo follows suit with his lone sortie on alto sax to embroider the last of Rivera's impressive charts. In sum, Keeper of the Flame is a well-shaped album whose less-than-seductive moments are brief and unimportant.
Big P; Bye Bye Blackbird; Hand in Glove; Blame It on My Youth; Blues by Four; Naima;
Elusive; Get Organized; Passion Dance.
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