Let's see, where do we start? Tim Ries is a name that will probably be familiar to only the most perceptive jazz followers. He's made a handful of records under his own name as well as appearing with scores of name artists, and not just those of a jazz persuasion. In addition to work with Tom Harrell, Phil Woods, Maria Schneider, and Bob Belden, Ries has also toured and/or worked with the Rolling Stones, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, and David Lee Roth. While his previous Criss Cross release, Universal Spirits, seemed to suggest that Ries was interested in going beyond a mainstream hard bop stance, he really comes into his own on Alternate Side, a diverse program that is as notable for what it takes in as for what it avoids.
Truly a mixed bag, and that term is used in the most affirmative sense, this collection is penned chiefly by Ries and the company he keeps is more than proficient at conveying his original intentions. "The Sinner and the Saint" opens things with Ries in most expressive form on tenor, recalling Michael Brecker at times. Larry Goldings turns up the vibrato for this soulful "amen number" and guitarist Ben Monder adds to the lush backing via the use of some juicy harmonies.
Barely perceptible as the jazz warhorse that it has become, Ries takes "What Is This Thing Called Love" and transforms it into a vehicle for his tart soprano, with Drummond's interactive forays percolating nicely underneath. Recalling the sensitive chamber approach of a classic ECM production, "Copake" finds Ries still on soprano for this reflective ballad, with a nice touch provided by the addition of Stacey Shames' harp. "Hart's Beat" also adds harp to the mix, but this time the focus is on a slightly more abstract arrangement. A pseudo bossa rhythm buoys the entire affair, with Monder's Abercrombie-inspired displays an indisputable highlight.
Taking full advantage of the counterpoint offered by the use of Greg Gisbert on trumpet and Michael Davis on trombone, "4637" evolves it's gnarly melody line in phrases that pass through several odd meters. Executing such difficult charts without a hitch, drummer Billy Drummond proves to be a vital entity and one has to ponder how successful the entire date would have been had he not been part of the ensemble.
Both "A Simpler Time" and "Alternate Blues" are more advert "swingers," but manage to find little wrinkles that take each soloist down wonderful new paths. The Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile" closes the curtain and both Ries and Monder go for a raunchy twang that suits the tune to a tee. Again, it seems suitable to bring up the ECM connection, with Drummond's cymbal sound as crisp and dry as that of Jon Christensen's and Monder's processed tone recalling Bill Frisell or possibly Terje Rypdal. This is only offered as a refernce point however, as Ries and his entire crew express themselves in such an exceptional manner that it's very possible Alternate Side will find its way on many a top ten lists this year.
The Sinner and the Saint, What Is This Thing Called Love, Copake, 4637, A Simpler Time, Hart's Beat, Alternate Blues, Moonlight Mile
Tim Ries (tenor & soprano sax), Greg Gisbert (trumpet & flugelhorn), Michael Davis (trombone), Ben Monder (guitar), Stacey Shames (harp on tracks 3 & 6 only), Larry Goldings (organ & piano), John Patitucci (bass), Billy Drummond (drums)
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