Review: Paco Séry
(New Morning Jazz Club, Rue des Petites Ecuries, Paris. Review by Alison Bentley)
Drummer Paco Séry’s new album is called The Real Life, and that’s exactly what this gig felt like. Born in 1956 in Côte d’Ivoire as one of eighteen siblings (in Divo, he then moved to Abidjan), Séry left his native country in 1979 at the invitation of pianist Eddy Louiss to begin a Parisian career, during which he has played alongside many of the greats: Joe Zawinul, Nina Simone, Wayne Shorter,Marvin Gaye and Bobby McFerrin….
Throughout this evening, his huge new musical ‘family’ joined him on stage in different permutations, but Séry was the galvanising force. His energy was extraordinary, like a coiled spring.
On the way into the club he shook everyone`s hand: `Welcome to the family.’ It was as if we’d been invited to Séry`s special party. He`s clearly a huge favourite among the demonstrative Parisian jazz fans, and he could do no wrong. The club felt like an intimate theatre, with its red walls, moulded black plastic chairs, and rickety lighting rig and ceiling fans. And indeed Séry has a strong sense of theatre and spectacle. Bright images of dancers and urban scenes were projected on to screens behind the stage, superimposed on live video of Séry- just as he himself lays jazz over West African music, creating something new.
Séry’s jazz family stretches into the past too. He worked with Joe Zawinul’s Syndicate for nine years, and the influence is still strong. The late Zawinul called Séry the best drummer in the world, and Séry dedicated the funky Thankful to him. He sat almost still at the drums at times, with focused energy and a spellbinding bass drum beat coming up through the floor. The keyboard timbre was a soundalike of Zawinul in Weather Report`s Black Market. A high point was Séry’s scat vocal with Cedric Duchemann‘s agile keyboard- then Séry soloed with impossibly fast rolls on the toms (as if he’d been secretly speeded up) over an asymmetrical keyboard riff. The crowd standing in the pit at the front clearly wanted to dance- but the club was so full they could hardly move. Nobody seemed to mind.
Séry also worked with Jaco Pastorius. (When Jaco heard his almost superhuman drumming, he famously asked, `What planet are you on, man?`) The Dry Cleaner from DeMoines (The Joni classic, and the only tune not a Séry original) was a tribute to Jaco. Sophia Nelson`s deep rich lead vocal gave a gospelly, Aretha-like gravitas to the song. Bassist Hadrien Feraud played the Jaco role superbly with precision and bubbling energy.
Fleeting references to Miles Davis’ funk era were everywhere: synth stabs from Tutu and funky grooves from Amandla, with W. African influences. Miles in the Jungle featured the three backing vocalists in call and response with Séry in a Côte d’Ivoire language- Séry arranges all the vocal harmonies, and there’s an intoxicating mix of jazz and traditional. Miles’ experiments with rap were revisited: ‘Miles Davis…when I heard the beat I almost had a heart attack!’ Only one of the two trumpets had a Harmon mute, wistfully drifting across the horn section.
Séry changed mood in the gentle Sanza– he roamed the stage with his kalimba (thumb piano), with its complex W African rhythms and shimmering textures. He duetted at speed with soprano sax and drew the audience in to total silence as he improvised with a string quartet! Rencontre unveiled more traditional African singers, and Cheick Tidiane Seck, guesting on keyboard, bent the notes to echo the vocalists’ quarter tones.
The tempos accelerated. Gérard Carocci’s percussion sparked. The tight four-horn section had roller coaster chromatic arrangements by Séry. They contrasted with the simple chord sequences throughout the gig, and added lightning to the thundering grooves of the encore Nasty Girl.
The mood was part family gathering, part festival. As Séry introduced the ‘band’- 24 and still counting- with charisma, determination and a sparkly baseball cap, all eyes were focused on him: the animating spirit.