Saxophonist Tim Ries can’t be criticized for being all over the place on his latest release, the double-CD Stones World. That was his intention. A member of the Rolling Stones’ touring band since 1999, Ries interprets a dozen of the group’s tunes here, with world music arrangements.
Stones World is Ries’ follow-up to the 2005 release The Rolling Stones Project, which featured an all-star cast focusing more on jazz arrangements of hits. Credit Ries for choosing material from lesser-known albums here, like the underrated 1976 release Black and Blue. Yet his “African” arrangement of “Hey Negrita” strays from the original only through the contributions of African group Tidawt, which chants around Bernard Fowler’s lead vocal. Ries plays the main melody; Charlie Watts, Ron Wood and Mick Jagger (on harmonica) add Stones nuances.
On the reading of “Fool to Cry” (listed as “Paris” because of guest French musicians), Fowler sounds handcuffed by Ries’ choice of a low key. Raising it a step would’ve allowed his voice to soar. Fowler has been an ace backing vocalist with the Stones for a decade, but he’s uneven on Stones World, nailing the R&B-influenced “Baby Break It Down” with Japanese singer Minako Yoshida, but offering a pedestrian walk through the Parisian “Miss You.” Latin themes are also hit-and-miss. The Puerto Rican take of “Under My Thumb,” with pianist Eddie Palmieri and vocalist Herman Olivera, is a creative salsa romp. But “Brown Sugar” seems largely credited to Portugal because of singer Ana Moura, who mimics Jagger’s original vocal verbatim.
Ries’ session work includes artists from Maynard Ferguson and Maria Schneider to Paul Simon and Sheryl Crow, and he creates highlights by staying close to his jazz and pop sensibilities. A sprawling “NYC” instrumental version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” features Ries and Stones touring trombonist Michael Davis with guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Jack DeJohnette, organist Larry Goldings and bassist James Genus. The saxophonist’s lone original, “A Funky Number,” features Japanese musicians and the rhythm guitar expertise of Keith Richards. Figuratively speaking, Ries might’ve been better served by staying closer to home on Stones World.