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Tim Ries: It's Only Rock n' Roll, But He Likes It

By Published: August 29, 2005

"They're very open and they've been encouraging. Knowing I'm a jazz musician that has played rock and even some pop before. It's nice that they don't specify how you play. It's not like, "OK. You're playing with us. You have to do it this way.' I'm not playing solos thinking I have to play a certain way. I'm just playing who I am and they're very cool about that," Ries says.

The music, he notes, "is all rooted basically in the same things that jazz is. The Stones are very influenced by American R&B, Muddy Waters, American black music. Early blues and R&B, which is what influenced jazz as well. It's all rooted in the same place. Those are the similarities that intrigue me. Also, their songs are very open and they lend themselves to improvising.

"They're a band that likes to get together and have fun. At their rehearsals, they have a set list to rehearse, but sometimes they'll break into a little jam session and just play, which is kind of cool to see. After 40 years they still like jamming together."

That music and that spirit is at the core of Ries new CD. The tour experiences are what prompted him to slowly explore Stones in his own way, and the project developed slowly. The end result is a captivating interpretation of the songs. Virtually all of them save for one down-home version of Honky Tonk Woman"—subtitled "Keith's Version"—are different from the originals. It's the Stones filtered through Ries' creative musical mind and it's a good disc. The melodies are true enough, but the journey is different.

The project started out slowly. Ries recorded "Moonlight Mile" by the Stones on a 1999 recording. "It was a song I loved doing with the Stones. I played keyboard on that song. It was a beautiful melody, Charlie Watts played mallets. I thought it would be cool tune to have on my record. I didn't think much more of it than just that."

His producer suggested more, but "even then I wasn't so much inclined because the tour had ended and there was no tour in the foreseeable future with the Stones. Who knew if they were going to tour again? Once I got the call to back again in 2002, I thought maybe it would be cool to do these tunes. So I got the idea together. The first three songs I recorded with Brian Blade, John Patitucci, Bill Charlap and Ben Monder. I recorded those tunes right before the rehearsals for the Forty Licks tour. I thought if I'm going to do their arrangements, I really should get their approval and have them listen to it and see if they like the direction they're going with their music.

"They were very positive and encouraging and they said, "Go ahead and do it.' My intent was to have that band, then Charlie Watts as a guest soloist on a couple of tunes. Once I asked him, then Keith (Richards) got involved and then Ronnie (Wood) and Sheryl Crow. Then I realized it was no longer going to be just a little jazz record, it was a thing that was going to take months of planning and getting all these people together."

The end result is a project everyone seems to be happy with. Ries got a chance to do about 20 club dates performing the music earlier this year and says that Stones fans are showing up at the gigs. he hopes to squeeze in some dates in various cities during the Stones tour.

The album starts with a funky version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and into a swinging version of "Honky Tonk Woman"... Tim's version—with Watts providing a steady pulse for Larry Goldings' organ and Ries' sax. Recognizable, but a different interpretation. The difference is the strength of the album. "Slippin' Away" is more abstract, almost a Coltranish groove and Richards takes a melodic solo as Ries floats deftly over the loose rhythm. "Street Fightin' Man" takes on a Latin groove, with Souza's wordless vocal weaving throughout. The vocals throughout, are sort of subservient to the music—not a bad thing—except for possibly Norah Jones on a slow version of "Wild Horses." Lovers of Stones music should dig the recording, and it shouldn't be just for them. It's creative from the mind of a musician who is open-minded and into his art.

"I wanted to leave the melodies untouched," says Ries. "I changed keys, times signatures and groove."

The Stones like it too.

"Keith was very encouraging about taking their music and extending it. They were very encouraging. It's nice to play someone else's music and hear that they dig what you're doing," says Ries.

Jagger isn't on the record, but for no particular reason other than scheduling conflicts. "When Keith and Ronnie recorded, it just happened to be that they were in LA that day. The scheduling of everyone was crazy. Working out the time and everything was hard. I was going to send (Jagger) a track and have him playing harmonica. (but it didn't work out). Hopefully, if there's another one maybe I'll have him get involved in the next project. That would be great."

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