Tim Ries Unearths a Gem

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Tim Ries, who frequently tours with the Rolling Stones, has a new leader album, Life Changes.

(Photo: Irene Meritxell)

Back in 2005, saxophonist Tim Ries garnered acclaim for his jazz-fueled interpretations of Rolling Stones music on The Rolling Stones Project (Concord), an all-star outing featuring vocalists Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones, guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell, keyboardist Larry Goldings and drummer Brian Blade, with guest appearances by the Stones’ Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts. Ries upped the ante in 2008 with the two-CD set The Rolling Stones Project II (Sunnyside). A kind of global travelogue, it showcased 75 indigenous musicians from Africa, Brazil, Cuba, India, Japan, Portugal and Puerto Rico, and also featured cameo appearances by Mick & The Boys.

As a member of the Stones’ touring band since 1999, Ries was uniquely qualified to interpret the tunes he played on a nightly basis in stadiums and amphitheaters around the globe. And yet, he was wary of being pigeonholed as “the guy who does Rolling Stones covers.” So, between Stones projects, he went into now-defunct Right Track Studios in Manhattan with Frisell, Goldings, harmonica ace Grégoire Maret, bassists Scott Colley and James Genus, and drumming great Jack DeJohnette to record several of his original pieces. That music remained in the vault for 14 years, until being released on May 11 as Life Changes (Ropeadope) to coincide with the Stones’ 2019 “No Filter” tour.

“I thought it was time to finally release this project of older material, because I have all this other new music that I need to get to,” said Reis, 59. “I’m constantly composing and I have material now that I couldn’t have imagined 14 years ago.”

Ries’ 10th album as a leader is a highly personal statement. Recorded during an emotionally charged period following his mother’s passing, Life Changes includes tunes named for his newborn twin daughters, Eliana and Bella, and features appearances by his wife, Juilliard-trained harpist Stacey Shames (on the Celtic-flavored “Eliana’s Song,” “Stacey’s Magic” and the tender “Jasia’s Snow Day”), and his 11-year-old daughter, Jasia, who sings on the serene “Bella’s Lullaby.”

“As a father, it’s so precious to hear my daughter singing a lullaby to her little sister,” said Ries. “But Jasia, who is now 25 and is involved in acting and singing, said to me, ‘Dad, please don’t do this. If people hear that, they’re not going to know the backstory. They’re going to think that’s what I sound like.’ So, I had her come in and cut new vocals on the track she originally sang over Larry Golding’s piano 14 years ago.”

The contributions by Frisell, Goldings, Maret and particularly DeJohnette are felt throughout Life Changes. As Frisell recalled, “For this session, Tim gathered us all together and set up an atmosphere where everyone could be themselves. For me, that’s where the best music happens. When there is trust among the musicians, no one is afraid to make a mistake or to take chances, no one is keeping score. We had never played together as a group before, but I knew everyone had my back, especially Jack. He always lifts things way up and makes everything better.” DeJohnette, whose interactive touch fuels the proceedings, unleashes on two showcases, “As It Happens” and “Hearing Around Corners.”

“Jack played so beautifully and free on both of them,” said Ries, who played on the drummer’s 2012 release, Sound Travels (eOne Music/Golden Beams). “I didn’t tell him anything. We just started playing and there was no boxed-in feeling. He’s just playing very fluid and so melodically. I wish I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now and play with Jack on that session. Man, 14 years later, I’d play differently now.”

Elsewhere on Life Changes, DeJohnette enlivens a 13-minute version of “Monk’s Dream” and provides seductive grooves on a samba-flavored “For Elis” (Ries’ ode to Brazil’s legendary singer Elis Regina) and on Gilberto Gil’s “Amor Até O Fim,” which finds the tenor saxophonist channeling his inner Stan Getz.

Meanwhile, Ries is busy with a couple of other projects, including an appearance in an upcoming documentary with the Budapest-based East Gipsy Band and collaborations with Andalusian pianist David Peña Dorantes and the Cádiz-based flamenco guitarist Keko Baldomero.

“This summer I’ll be in Spain for six weeks recording my flamenco-inspired music with a bunch of great flamenco guitarists,” he said. “I’ve been connecting with dancers, singers, guitarists and pianists over there, and it’s like being thrown into the fire, like a young jazz musician moving to New York for the first time. The hang is deep, and it’s been a really deep learning curve for me.” DB