Alternate Side is a good deal more complex in terms of composition and orchestration than Tim Ries' previous record, Universal Spirits. The saxophonist opts for a septet this time instead of a quintet, a move that greatly increases his textural options. The combined presence of guitarist Ben Monder and organist/pianist Larry Goldings allows for subtle tonal variations in the comping. The front line, comprised of Ries, Greg Gisbert on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Michael Davis on trombone, makes for a full-bodied ensemble sound with the impact of a small big band. Bassist John Patitucci and drummer Billy Drummond deftly construct the rhythmic foundation, much of which is tremendously involved. On the ballad "Copake" and the trippy, odd-metered "Hart's Beat," Ries enlists the talents of his wife, Stacey Shames, whose harp adds an element of sonic surprise that is truly rare. The album opens with the light 3/4 pop-gospel feel of "The Sinner and the Saint" and closes with an inspired arrangement of the Rolling Stones gem "Moonlight Mile." (Ries, an accomplished session musician, toured with the Stones in 1999.) In between, highlights include an unorthodox treatment of "What Is This Thing Called Love" (compare Don Grolnick's version on Weaver of Dreams), a brain-teaser of a piece titled "4637," and a smoking, 14-bar "Alternate Blues." Overall, a significant achievement for the underrated Ries.
Alternate Side Review
by David R. Adler