Criss Cross Jazz
Ries has played lead alto with the Maria Schneider Orchestra since 1993. In 1999 he toured with the Rolling Stones for six months. On this album he captures these extremes and more, although the balance tips in favor of the rarified Schneider experience. Ries' training in composition-he has a master's degree from the University of Michigan-also comes into play.
The album opens with his gospelish "The Sinner and the Saint," and here his robust tenor suggests Ernie Watts. There's more of this contemporary tenor sound on the Stones' "Moonlight Mile," which closes the set. In between comes an abstract reharmonization of "What Is This Thing Called Love?," a couple of lyrical originals, a 14-bar blues and a couple of pieces sure to confound the metrically challenged (although the musicians breeze through the complex counts).
Ries employs trumpeter Greg Gisbert, trombonist Michael Davis, guitarist Ben Monder, pianist and organist Larry Goldings, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Billy Drummond in various combinations on the album. Harpist Stacey Shames, his wife, appears on two cuts.
The leader's soprano on the lyrical "Copake" veers close to pop-instrumental music. On the challenging "4637" his tenor work is bold and New York tough. Gisbert dances through this one unscathed, too. "Alternate Blues" gives Davis a chance to stretch out and exercise his fluid, seemingly effortless yet chops-laden style. As a writer, Ries finds plenty of fresh sounds by blending the organ and guitar with the horns and by carefully tweaking the dynamics in the ensemble sections. The harp is a different touch, too. There are lots of contrasts in this album, and Ries make a solid case for himself at every turn.