Jazz interpretations of popular songs have long been an important part of the jazz experience, but regrettably, that tradition has been plagued by two unfortunate trends in the '90s and the 21st century. At one extreme are the ideologues who believe that worthwhile popular music ended with the George Gershwin/Irving Berlin/Cole Porter era and insist on playing the same old warhorses over and over -- and at the other extreme are the smooth jazz players who think that performing note-for-note Muzak covers of Top 40 tunes is creative. But there are some imaginative improvisers who are using rock and R&B songs as vehicles for real, honest to God jazz expression -- people like the Bad Plus, England's Claire Martin, and Philadelphia singer Lou Lanza (who paid tribute to the Doors on his excellent Opening Doors album). And on The Rolling Stones Project, tenor/soprano saxman Tim Ries reminds listeners how nicely the Stones' songbook can work in a jazz-oriented environment. This post-bop/soul-jazz effort isn't without its flaws; the opener, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," is ruined by the pointless background vocals of Bernard Fowler, who repeats the song's chorus over and over (without singing the verses) and merely gets in the way of Ries' expressive tenor. But when Ries' largely instrumental Stones tribute is great, it's really great. The saxman soars on an organ combo version of "Honky Tonk Women" (with organist Larry Goldings and Stones drummer Charlie Watts), and Ries is equally imaginative on a Brazilian-influenced arrangement of "Street Fighting Man" and a probing, somewhat Michael Brecker-ish take on "Paint It Black." Singer Norah Jones has a memorable spot on "Wild Horses"; her performance is jazzy pop/rock rather than actual vocal jazz, but she's enjoyably good at what she does. Despite some occasional missteps, The Rolling Stones Project has more ups than downs and is well worth the price of admission.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson