“Indeed, you exist neither yesterday nor today nor tomorrow, but are absolutely outside all time. For yesterday and today and tomorrow are completely in time; however, you, though nothing can be without you, are nevertheless not in place or time but all things are in you. For nothing contains you, but you contain all things.” — St. Anselm.
Barry Ries, a world-class trumpeter-drummer, chose the above quote as prologue for his startlingly accomplished debut album, Solitude In The Crowd. Anselm’s meditations express principles of inclusiveness and universality — and fluidity within time — that Ries embodies in his musicianship.
Don’t take it from me. Consider the words of bassist Dennis Irwin, Ries’ friend and musical partner since both attended North Texas State University more than 25 years ago:
“Barry is a pure and natural player. He cuts right through to everybody’s sensibility, makes you a believer with sound logic. He’s pan-stylistic, just lays it out, and has fun doing it, too. A different part of his wit comes out on trumpet and drums. On the drums he plays things that wouldn’t lie exactly on the architectural bar lines, but makes everything swing like crazy. On trumpet, he has a burnished edge to his tone that’s become wider and darker. He has a venturesome streak, goes after something and then comes back in, never tries to lose the listener or be so abstract that you need a slide rule to figure it out. As deeply rooted as he is in structure and form, everything he ends up playing is elusive, hard to put down on paper — little things behind the music in rhythm and melody.”
“I had a very grounded beginning,” Ries comments. “My first big New York gigs with Gerry Mulligan, Horace Silver and Lionel Hampton were all very straight-ahead. You didn’t get Horace’s gig unless you could play changes. Period. I know what I’m doing. I honor the old style, play it, can get off in it, and love it to this day. But at the same time I listen to Lester Bowie, my favorite is Don Cherry, and I also like to play that way. I feel comfortable playing a standard, but it’s my current adaptation. The tune influences me; I won’t play the same on every tune.”
Ries earned that attitude through extensive bandstand experience. He’s been a working musician since puberty. His father, Dave Ries, played drums “on the commercial side of the music business, let’s say — over-21 dances, wedding receptions, burlesque houses, a few big band concerts, which he took me to as a kid. I officially first took a lesson from him when I was 7. Later my father told me, ‘Look, you’re going to need to play these beats. Here’s a Mambo, here’s a Merengue, here’s a Swing, here’s a Two-Beat. If they say a Businessman’s Beat, here’s what you do.’ He showed me, I did it, and I started going out on gigs.”
Ries began trumpet at 11 in elementary school, and developed into a high-note player, “screaming in the marching band, but doing it wrong, which later gave me a lot of problems.” He was impressed by Fats Navarro’s “Ice Freezes Red” (his father’s 78 copy), then his mother (“she’d get me anything with a trumpet on the cover”) brought home Kenny Dorham’s Jazz Contemporary from the Woolworth’s dollar bin. “I started digging how K.D. didn’t do this high note business, but played hip little things,” Ries emphasizes. “At 15 I heard Miles Smiles, a big record; also Love Supreme, Stan Getz’s Sweet Rain, Charles Lloyd. Cincinnati had two or three good radio stations that played jazz, and one presented avant-garde, which I liked, on Friday and Saturday nights — Marion Brown, Don Cherry, late Trane, Pharaoh. At the same time I was playing trumpet on gigs with my father, totally different from what I was listening to, and playing drums in wedding bands. That’s when the music started changing — Weather Report, Bitches Brew, Mahavishnu, Lifetime. I was playing horn in a variety of Rock bands.”
Soon after Ries entered North Texas State in 1970, he joined the school’s prestigious One O’clock Band, “which opened doors for me. I started getting calls for all these dance bands that would come through Dallas, from Ted Weems to Ray Anthony to Ralph Marterie, all with a carryover from the old Harry James trumpet-player-with-big band. It was experiencing a lost era, the last bit of something I grew up seeing on television — country clubs, people dancing, the old sound where you’d take 8-bar solos with Harmon mute and the stem in it.
“After North Texas I returned to Cincinnati. I’d gone through a lot of mouthpiece changes and was very frustrated with the trumpet. I put it away for two years after I met a pianist named Ed Moss who had a club called the Emanon, and needed a drummer. At one point we were playing trio six nights a week and live radio broadcasts on Saturday afternoon. In the course of that time Johnny Hartman sat in, as did Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Victor Feldman, Sonny Stitt and Milt Jackson. Ed is a unique pianist, totally not influenced by Chick, Herbie or Keith. He was more into Monk, could play stride, that sort of swing style, but a student of Webern and 20th Century harmony. He would take away my sock cymbal, play in weird keys or really odd tempos, which he was a stickler on holding — if it started to drag or rush, he’d let you know right away. In that way it was like a school. I started studying all the cats who played trio — Thigpen with Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Cobb with Wynton Kelly, Kenny Clarke with Hank Jones — and how they played differently on the cymbal. And I grew up hearing Tony Williams, so he had a big effect on me.”
In 1977 Ries took a gig in Miami, where he returned to the trumpet and met the multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan. “At that time Ira had really focused all his instruments — the trumpet, flute, soprano, alto and tenor — and he sounded great on all of them,” Ries marvels. “He’d play a set and wouldn’t stop, everything segued. He’s all about vibe and ambiance, which is where I’m at. When I play gigs I’m more into the mood, even if it might not be a perfect performance. I don’t necessarily want people to think only about the trumpet when they listen to me.
Ries left Miami in 1978 for a short hit with Woody Herman’s band — “the first gig I’d ever tried for and didn’t get, which was a bit of a blow” — and landed in New York City. He worked with Paul Jeffrey and Duke Jordan, quickly immersed himself in the roiling scene of the jazz capital, “playing lots of sessions with people like Joe Lovano, Ralph LaLama, Rich Perry, Jeff Hirshfield and Adam Nussbaum. I was on a roll. At one point in the early ’80s I was making a living being a jazz musician!”
Within six months, Ries joined Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band, “sort of in between Swing, Dixieland and Jazz — Gerry falls in a funny category." We became good friends, and he was very enlightening. He introduced me to Don Sebesky, who turned me on to a lot of studio work, and I do a lot of things with Don to this day. Gerry also introduced me to Todd Coolman, who in essence got me an audition with Horace Silver; that’s also when I started working with Lionel Hampton.
“Horace put me in all the major jazz clubs in America. When we opened at the Village Vanguard, I saw Woody Shaw at the bar, looking up at the bandstand. I’d been hanging out with Woody, he’d been nice to me and said, ‘Man, I like what you’re doing in the tradition with Horace; play your thing.’ I knew some of my stuff was from him, so I consciously left it alone. If you quote Woody or Freddie Hubbard, and they’re sitting out there, it isn’t improvisation. That’s when the thought, ‘Whatever it is you do, do it,’ struck me for the first time. When you’re hitting five-six nights a week, going from town to town, you start thinking about the philosophical backdrop of what you’re doing.”
Ries continued playing dance-based music with Lionel Hampton, occasionally subbing on drums, and began working with Machito, becoming ever more involved in Latin music. In 1985 he moved back to Miami, where “the Latin scene was unbelievable. I played with Colombian, Dominican and Cuban bands, a lot of traditional music with simple progressions where if you play bebop licks it sounds retarded. I listened to the way cats like El Negro and Chocolate played. It wasn’t Beboppy, getting into the rhythm and playing on it, more etudes almost, but with a Latin feel. It was either go real melodic or high note, and I chose the melodic route.”
Ries presently resides in Boston, where he performs and teaches on both instruments. His unique way of telling a story with just the right blend of harmonic-rhythmic flexibility and melodic essence shines throughout Solitude In The Crowd, and dovetails with the sensibility of his superb collaborators. “On this date,” he says, “I wanted to use players who cover a lot of ground, go inside and outside. Dennis Irwin is a very important energy here. He provides that deep foundation which is needed in this sort of playing. It was Dennis’ suggestion that Yoron Israel, Billy Drummond and Michael Cochrane participate in this project, so many thanks to Dennis.
“I first met Joe Lovano in Cincinnati in the mid-’70s when he was with Jack McDuff, then when he was with Woody Herman. He helped get me with Woody. After that we played often in New York. When this project came up, I couldn’t think of a more open-minded tenor man than Joe. He really fit the music.”
Of “Akasha,” Ries writes: “It comes from a small melodic phrase composed by my daughter, Olivia, a true hero of life. ‘Akasha’ means capacity. ‘The Secret of the Whole of Creation can be traced to the understanding of what is meant by Capacity. Capacity is that which makes a hollow in which the action of the all-pervading existence may produce a substance. Thus, the living being is a capacity, an Akasha, and man is a finished capacity. Everything in its turn is an Akasha, just as all substance is a capacity; and according to that capacity it produces what is meant to produce.’ (Hazrat Inayat Khan).” “Of course I reworked it,” he adds, “but it’s basically her theme. It starts out setting a mood with the rhythm, then Yoron takes it into the groove. You might call it polytonal, because the head is in one key and the chords sort of lay in another.”
Ries’ “Small Feats,” “is a stretched out ‘Giant Steps.’ It’s typical of my friend Ron Miller, a composition teacher at the University of Miami, sus chords, with a nice positive upbeat sound.” On “Dove’s Eyes” Ries comments, “it’s the eyes of innocence, your basic jazz waltz with a written piano introduction and some altered chords.”
Harry Warren’s “Summer Night,” from the 1936 show Sing Me A Love
Song, gets a ballad treatment. “Getz used to play it as a samba, and
Miles recorded it years ago on Quiet Nights in 3/4,” Ries recalls.
“Hormone Derange,” Ries notes, “is based on a major sharp-five sound. It’s probably the most complicated thing we did on the record.”
Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty,” arranged by Dennis Irwin in mid-tempo swing rather than waltz time, is the upbeat quartet closer.
“Myrrh” is Irwin’s original, evocative of Old and New Dreams but distinctly individual. “Dennis always said he heard a Salvation Army band play it,” Ries says. “It’s three separate melodic phrases which set up the soloist to develop his story.”
At 46, Barry Ries is hardly a new voice, but it isn’t every day that a fully-formed improviser makes their recording debut. We’ll let Dennis Irwin have the last word: “Like any of the inspirational masters who people thought were naturals, Barry had to work endlessly to arrive at the place where it became easy. He’s one of the lucky ones with born ability, and came into a family where it was nurtured. Nothing he plays seems forced, it always seems right; as much as he acknowledges sources and plays identifiable routes, he transports it to another sphere.”
Ted Panken - “Downbeat”; WKCR-FM, New York.