Of all the excessively talented sidemen the late great Weather Report keyboardist/composer Joe Zawinul employed in his globetrotting Syndicate band, French-Ivorian drummer Paco Séry was among the most memorably explosive: a fireworks display on a drum stool. And while Zawinul’s passing in 2007 has left a void in the live scene, Weather Report’s worldly-wise mix of sounds remains potently influential today as a new generation of fusion-heads discover Uncle Joe and co’s legacy. Séry himself is also known for his long standing work with France’s answer to Weather Report, Sixun, but his focus has now turned away from this popular group and turned instead to his own group, which made its spectacular debut at the New Morning club, Paris, this weekend.
Launching his latest solo album, The Real Life, the belated follow up to his solo debut Voyages, released some 12 years hence on Blue Note, proved such an enticing prospect that the venue was heaving as several hundred fans filled every available space – 100 or so were turned away on the night. It all seemed like something of a homecoming, but this was Paco’s night and he more than lived up to the role of playing ringmaster, holding court in a gold outfit, diamante bling sparkling on his cap emblazoned with his trademark ‘P’. The fiftysomething drummer was so pumped with adrenalin he was soon rattling round his kit like a drumming Bruce Lee, side-swiping his tom toms at lightning speed, killer left and right hand chops landing with breathtaking power and precision. At one point one of these warp-speed fills ended with Paco comically falling backward on his drum stool, only to pop back up grinning having ducked his own knockout blow. This was all fuel to fire up the Parisian crowd who revelled in the sheer entertainment value of it all, the band too swelling in numbers from song-to-song, the core eight-piece – featuring French bass star Hadrien Feraud who’d flown in from LA just for the night – also included a very tight horn section, three backing singers and a parade of guest vocalists and soloists; the second set even featuring a string quartet drafted in at the last minute to duet with Séry on his astonishing kalimba (thumb piano) solo spot.
With so much going on the gig sometimes lost momentum, the Paris-based drummer's charisma and bristling drum skills not quite enough to carry off so many switches of style, but the ambition of it all was nothing less than remarkable. The new album also plays on a global melting pot of styles as it dips into Milesian-funk, Zawinul groove-fusion, and George Clinton style call and response chanting. But at the heart of Paco’s music are both his African roots from his days burning it up in Abidjan as a teenager, and the blues. All of which combined brilliantly on the second set, the band and the sound having found its groove, Paco raising the roof with a triumphant djembe-and-drums duel and a brilliantly effect salute to his old soul brother Joe, aptly entitled ‘Futur’. All in all it was a reminder of Zawinul’s gift, like Miles before him, for discovering and nurturing new talents, who themselves become the masters of tomorrow. On this evidence Paco Séry is more than ready to carry that legacy on to a new generation, but this time under his own name and musical vision.
– Mike Flynn