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Tim Ries With Randy Brecker at Drom

Peter Jurew By

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Tim Ries with Randy Brecker
Drom
New York, NY
June 21, 2017

Saxophonist Tim Ries has made a name for himself internationally as a jazz educator and composer, leader and sideman. A master of tenor and soprano saxophones, since 2007, he's also known for playing in the The Rolling Stones's horn section on several world tours. Those side gigs led to two well-received albums of Ries- arranged Stones material performed by jazz ensembles that have included Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, and vocalist Bernard Fowler .

In June, on the longest day of the year, Ries traded academia and stadium rock for the intimate ((e: Drom}}, playing an eclectic set of jazz to help celebrate the East Village nightclub's ten years in business. He brought with him a fine quintet that featured the estimable trumpeter, Randy Brecker, and a brilliant rhythm section comprised of the Spanish pianist-composer-arranger, Chano Dominguez, the one-time Brecker Brothers bassist, James Genus, and drummer Clarence Penn, who flashes the fast fists and ebullient smile of a latter-day Art Blakey.

The set got off to a strong start with Thelonious Monk's much-loved, "Evidence," in a fresh arrangement by Dominguez that gave the tune a tango groove—bass and drums hammering the stops and starts, freeing Ries and Brecker freed to play over, under and around Monk's trademark staccato piano chords. Brecker's sharp trumpet break opened the solos and set the tone for a smooth solo from Ries, gliding along on tenor in shimmering sheets of sound.

The high level of playing continued with "La Playa," a Ries original written, he said, in South America, on a day off from the Stones tour, enjoying a restorative day at the beach. The relaxed mood was established by the rhythm section and sweetened with a smooth solo from Ries on soprano sax and a complementary break from Brecker on trumpet.

In an apparently unplanned segue, Dominguez and Ries welcomed a "special guest" to the stage—the vocalist Ismael Fernandez, who just happened to be in the house. The handsome, humble Fernandez is a renowned figure in the world of Spanish flamenco, best known for his work with Sonia Olla - flamenco dancer, Maria Pages, "la Familia Fernandez," among others; he has been acclaimed as "the most charismatic performer" in flamenco by critics and aficionados of the art-form. At Drom, he graciously, almost shyly, took the stage and then paused before starting a Dominguez-penned piece the pianist said he named "Mr. I.F.," in honor of the singer.

As he took several deep breaths, a dramatic change began to come over Fernandez—his face flushed, his eyes began to glisten -it looked as if blood and adrenaline and emotion were being physically summoned up from a deep well within him for the (apparently unrehearsed) performance he was about to give. Fernandez motioned to Ries and the leader and his band began to play. After several introductory instrumental bars from the piano, Fernandez clasped his hands before him, stepped away from the microphone, looked over the audience toward the back of the hall and launched into the piece. It was a guttural lament sung in Spanish with a snaking melody dripping with Arab, Gypsy and Iberian influences.

Flamenco is a folk tradition of southern Spain that integrates an array of arts—cante (singing), baile (dancing), palmas (hand-clapping) and pitos (finger-snapping)—all of which aim to express a romantic idealization of joy and sadness, passion and sensuality, pleasure and pain, love and loss. The most frequent instrument found in flamenco is guitar and the great players include Paco De Lucia, who developed flamenco guitar style to exalted heights, transcending the genre without ever completely leaving it.

When Fernandez finished the vocal section of the piece, Dominguez took the band into its most heartfelt and raucous jam of the night, the rhythm section of Genus and Penn exuding joy from their instruments as they bounced through the flamenco grooves and drove Ries and Brecker to superlative solos. The audience exploded in appreciation when it ended, many in the house giving Fernandez and the band a rare mid-set standing ovation.

Encouraged by the triumph, Dominguez prevailed upon Fernandez to stay and give the audience a second piece, this time the Miles Davis standard, "Blue In Green," with original lyrics sung in Spanish and given a flamenco arrangement. Here the band broke the "one too many" rule, never finding the tune's bluesy groove—where "Mr. I.F." worked so well, "Blue In Green" as a flamenco-jazz cross-over felt forced, disconnected—an interesting idea that didn't work.

The set closed on a happy note, the band swinging hard on a Brecker original the trumpeter has dedicated "to musicians around the world"—"Dirty Dogs." Brecker kicked off the hard-bop arrangement with a trademark fat-toned trumpet solo, sliding off and around the hot beat before handing over to Ries for a smoking tenor run. The tune broke into a series of duets with the great Genus, Ries starting off the fun with tenor sax-bass dance before Dominguez stepped in for a go. Penn took over for a bass-drums duet which led the full band back into final blasts on the theme.
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