First posted on Mark Is Cranky:
About a week ago this midnight, the Rolling Stones had just finished up their second show at Boston’s Fenway Park. Rather than going out on the Internet to weep over a setlist that I didn’t get a chance to witness, I took a trip through this quite interesting jazz-oriented Stones tribute recording. Sometimes It just feels right dragging my pencil across some crisp, white paper (and nearly always preferable to pointing, clicking and clacking away at a keyboard).
In the jazz world, the swingification of popular music is very common. Sometimes the results are so great that a well-known pop standard is transformed into a jazz standard. One of the best examples of this is Coltrane’s take on “My Favorite Things”. A melodious mega-hit from The Sound Of Music reimagined as a soaring fit of passion.
More recent pop and rock music seems somehow less malleable. Maybe it’s the simpler song forms. It’s tough to say. When the transformation does work, the source material is usually stretched completely out of shape (Bill Frisell’s deconstruction/obliteration of Madonna’s “Live To Tell” comes to mind). Parodies seem to work given a devious enough intent (Hayseed Dixie and Dread Zeppelin). Shifts into related genres can be fun too. The Reggae spins of pop hits on Brand New Second Hand were fantastic: you’ve probably heard Toots & the Maytals do “Take Me Home Country Roads” from that record.
Tim Ries’ The Rolling Stones Project is a different animal. Instead of attempting to distort the music, Ries (with a little help from some friends) takes the gist of each song and amplifies it…off in a slightly different direction.
That approach makes a lot of sense when you learn that Ries has played (sax, keys, organ) with the Rolling Stones on both the No Security and 40 Licks tours. A jazz arrangement of “Moonlight Mile” on his own recording Alternate Side gave him the idea that the Stones’ music had further jazz potential.
Part of what makes this tribute unique is that the Stones, after hearing a few demos, became part of the project. So Charlie, Keith and Ronnie (who also provided the cover artwork) were added to the already stellar cast of Larry Goldings, John Patitucci, John Scofield, Darryl Jones, Brian Blade, Ben Monder, Bill Frisell and Norah Jones.
So what do jazz instrumental versions of these iconic tunes sound like? Well, that varies from song to song.
The snotty opening riff of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is turned on its side and made to preach the funk thanks to John Scofield’s rippling guitar lines and Larry Goldings’ organ.
“Honky Tonk Woman” as an organ trio (Ries, Goldings and Watts) works better than expected. I’ve heard Charlie Watts in a jazz context before (“From One Charlie” being the first) so it’s not surprising to hear him anchoring the swing.
The melody of “Street Fighting Man” is zipped off at a quick pace in the middle of a Brazilian strut. The soloing here is inspired (hats off to Edward Simon on piano) and for a while you’ll forget that this is a Stones classic…until that familiar melody pops back in.
There are a handful of tunes on this collection with vocals. Sheryl Crow joins Keith on swirling background vocals for “Slipping Away”. Lisa Fischer shadows the melody line of “Gimme Shelter” and adds backing vocals with a “Great Gig In The Sky” feel. And, in what is both the least and most transformed song, Norah Jones and Bill Frisell anchor an ultra-sultry “Wild Horses”. I tell ya, Frisell’s guitar was made for that voice.
Speaking of Frisell, his atmospheric guitar is all over the pensive “Waiting On A Friend” and a gorgeous “Ruby Tuesday”, the latter performed as a duet with Ries.
The possibilities inherent in Stones jazz arrangements are best illustrated by the expansive solos taken by Ben Monder (guitar) and Bill Charlap (piano) during “Paint It Black”. As Brian Blade forces the rhythmic issue, those guys just take off.
The least jazzified tune on The Rolling Stones Project is the second version of “Honky Tonk Woman”, labeled “(Keith’s Version)”. After a sexy vocal intro (thank you again Lisa Fischer), Keith’s signature guitar raunch kicks in. From there the melody is handled by Ries and the chorus blooms with Fischer’s vocals. Keith provides a blistering guitar solo. Bliss ensues. Fischer ends the tune with the vocal aside/come on “You better play boy…”
The Rolling Stones Project ends appropriately with the Ries original “Belleli”. It’s his tribute to the Stones’ lyrical side and is dedicated to his twin girls, born during the 40 Licks tour.
Rest assured, this record is no Stones-at-the-grocery-store-on-Musak kind of thing. It is instead a successful experiment by an inventive jazz mind. In some ways, it was quite a risk taking on such famous source material…but hey, if it was good enough for Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie, then it’s good enough for me.