The Rolling Stones have been around forever, it seems ; certainly for most of my life. I’ve heard Tim Ries and Bernard Fowler in interviews, saying how long they have been part of the Stones’ touring band, and they sound incredulous. ‘Twenty years?’ (or whatever the total might be now), they seem to be asking themselves. ‘Has it really been that long?’ But when you score a gig as good as that, and you’re good enough to hold onto it, why wouldn’t you?

So much touring experience with the Stones, combined with his education and high-level playing and arranging experience in jazz, has put Ries in a unique position to experiment with and re-interpret the Stones repertoire.

For this return visit to Bird’s Basement with The Rolling Stones Project, Ries played saxophone (and piano on some songs) while Fowler made the most of the opportunity to step forward as lead (rather than backing) vocalist.

They were joined by three of Melbourne’s most accomplished jazz musicians, in Craig Fermanis (guitar), Sam Anning (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums).  They stretched out on numbers like ‘Paint It Black’, which was immediately recognisable, but very different from the original. Fermanis played a very exciting, snarling solo, as if to say he’s available should Keef or Ronnie decide to call it a day. Fischer took a solo here, showcasing his ability to create a dramatic musical statement, much more than a motley assortment of technical displays.

At the start of the second set, Ries introduced the premiere of a composition he wrote last week, after hearing of the recent murder of Sisto Malaspina, the popular proprietor of Pellegrini’s. Like so many Melburnians, and so many visitors to Melbourne, Ries had found a home away from home when he first visited Pelligrini’s many years ago, and on every subsequent visit. ‘A Name For Every Number’ featured a fragile lead from Ries’ soprano sax, and an eloquent solo from the bassist.

On the vocal numbers, Fowler owned the stage. He never strutted around like Jagger (who could?) but that had the advantage that he wasn’t running a mini-marathon, he could simply sing in his rich, powerful voice, and bring out the nuances in the lyrics.

In a departure from the Stones theme, he offered a brilliant version of David Bowie’s ‘Disco King’, and a magnificent rendition of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, which featured a gutsy, soulful tenor solo from Ries.

An exuberant version of ‘Satisfaction’, with Fermanis in Sco-motion, was the set closer. But the audience’s applause brought the band back for ‘Ruby Tuesday’, which Fowler invited the fans to sing with him.

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