John Serry THE SHIFT (2013, SPCo Records)
1. Pockets 2. Bills 3. The Influence 4. The Shift 5. Off the Cuff 6. Down Down Down 7. Holiday 8. The One
John Serry piano, David O'Higgins tenor and soprano saxophones, Mark Mondesir drums, either Sam Burgess acoustic bass (tracks 2, 3, 7, 8) or Mike Mondesir electric bass (tracks 1, 4, 5, 6)
All compositions by John Serry (BMI), published by Serry Publishing Company (BMI). All arrangements by John Serry. All compositions and arrangements © 2013 John Serry Jr. Produced by John Serry and released on SPCo Records (a division of Serry Publishing Company). All tracks ℗ 2013 John Serry Jr. Recorded at Koolworld (Luton, England), April 19 and 20, 2006, Dave Wooster recording engineer. Mixed at Red Angela (Bologna, Italy), May 12, 13 and 19, 2012, Davide Torre mix engineer. Cover art photograph by Elen Arrowsmith.
John Serry – The Shift
John Serry blazed his own trail in 1979 & 1980 with two remarkable albums, Exhibition and Jazziz. Full of linear complexity and blistering speeds with a few odd time signatures, the albums were littered with infectious grooves and heartfelt melodies which were both sparkling and pensive. He caught the public imagination for a fleeting moment in time and garnered a Grammy nomination for the remarkable skill with which he arranged and presented his music. His immense musical transformations took his pieces to a higher dimension. The music is undergoing an ideological fusion renaissance right now, trying to be true to the experimental spirit of fusion forefathers Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin. Serry emerged embodying this spirit and stands as an equal in their company. His music has a singular identity and profound jazz musicality with an overwhelming awareness of classical form and compositional development.
In the following years Serry was quiet as a leader but continued working as a jazz pianist, MD and musician on Broadway and a jazz educator, whilst indulging his love of travel and art. It wasn’t until 15 years later in 1995 that he would release “Enchantress” to many delighted fans glad that a musician of such magnitude was still recording. Only another 17 years and the 4th official John Serry album is released with music just as strong, fresh and beguiling as those early days, with an attractive maturity and his gift for composition still just as powerful. The music here is full of Serry’s signature melodic and rhythmic twists and turns in well constructed pieces, as you’d expect, but now coming more from the straight ahead conception presented in the simpler format of piano, electric or acoustic bass, drums and either tenor or soprano saxophone.
The album opens with “Pockets”, a classic Serry composition with an acute awareness of ensemble built around the journey of the melody, executed on soprano sax by Dave O’Higgins. In comparison to his early work this piece showcases an evolved composer able to say as much, and perhaps more with less. The music pours gracefully out of this electric bass version of the quartet and in the piano solo he expressively navigates the corners and crevices with feeling in what is one of the standout pieces of the set.
“Bills” is a straight ahead 4/4 medium swinger for the band featuring solos from all including O'Higgins’ soprano; Serry unfurls the potential of the song with a sense of humour and joyful double-timing whilst really digging in. Sam Burgess takes a confident acoustic bass solo before the band trade 4s with Mondesir.
The title track, “The Shift”, centres on an elegant use of 9/4 meter for what is essentially a groove piece.
“Off the Cuff” in 3/4 presents a sing-able melody on tenor answered subtly by piano interjections that allows the logic and pace of the piece to breathe. O’Higgins relishes the tasty chord changes in his solo and Serry stylishly converses with the drums in his solo and then passes the baton to Michael Mondesir who takes a short and to the point electric bass solo.
We get to enjoy Serry’s melodic playfulness in his construction of the exuberant “Down Down Down. The music negotiates from vamp to 4/4 pulse and the groove setup on the vamp unleashes a full powered Mark Mondesir. Both Mondesir brothers grew up on Serry's music and sensitively respond and contribute to the musical intent here. O'Higgins ups the stakes on this one working hard to utilise the intensity provided by the rhythm section. Serry opens up whilst keeping his head and carves out a solo of centred clarity as he builds up the energy with the drums. Mondesir then demonstrates his virtuosity and creativity in an action packed solo over the extended vamp into the recapitulation of the theme as the band in full flight bring the piece to conclusion.
Both Serry aficionados and novices will get a chance to hear him on solo piano as he rhapsodises at the top of three pieces introducing the melody before the band enters. Each piece exhibits a different character; on “The Influence” the introduction is the main statement of theme supported by the acoustic bass just before the entire band enters for the tenor solo on what is a medium tempo ballad.
"Holiday" also states the melody into the O'Higgins tenor solo on a conception that borrows from both John Coltrane and Bill Evans. Sam Burgess takes a worthy acoustic bass solo.
“The One” is a very pretty piece that flowers into a joyous band rendition of the melody and sets up the spirited medium tempo pulse for solos from tenor sax, piano and acoustic bass. In all of Serry’s solo piano forays is the spirit of Bill Evans, which doesn’t overwhelm the inner Serry, but rather just acts as a good springboard for his own expressiveness.
“The Shift” reveals a musician secure in his ability to deliver a strong message, not self-conscious or apologetic but steadfast in his intention to communicate honestly. There’s a dryer more effortless sense of pianism that will leave you feeling rhapsodised by the music of a master musician and composer with so much to say.
Pianist, composer, host of BBC Radio 3 "Jazz Line-Up"
Notes from the artist: My new album, The Shift, is finally released and available for digital download. This is my first self-released album, as opposed to releasing on a record label (like my previous recordings on Chrysalis and Telarc.) The label name that you see here, SPCo Records, is derived from my publishing company, Serry Publishing Company.
The album contains all original compositions by me, as usual for my recordings. The band is that which I formed in London when I first came to Europe to live in 2004. It includes drummer Mark Mondesir (who has toured with John McLaughlin) and either Sam Burgess (from Ronnie Scott's house trio) on upright bass or Mike Mondesir (who has toured with Billy Cobham and Jack DeJohnette) on electric bass, depending on the track. On tenor and soprano saxophones there is David O'Higgins, who is also known for his own groups and recordings.
In several ways this is my favorite album to date. It has a level of group interaction which is exciting and moving. It contains expressive emotional compositions (e.g., The Influence, Holiday) as well as ones which are hard driving (The Shift, Down Down Down) and swinging (Bills, The One.) Then there are a couple of complex compositions, including Pockets which gets a very positive reaction from colleagues in particular. The album has a lot of good solos by everyone. I tend to be pretty self-critical, but I have some solos that I outright like without reservation (e.g., Off the Cuff.) The drumming on this record, in terms of the interplay, responsiveness, sensitivity, dynamics, excitement, solos and feel, is remarkable. In general, everybody got way inside the compositions and played with obvious affection, affinity, insight and interest. Over the course of two and a half years playing together, this became a highly reactive and sympathetic band.
The Shift was recorded near London (in Luton) in 2006 and then suffered many delays (long story.) However, I produced a remix May 2012 in Bologna, Italy and am very happy with the results. This is a pivotal record for me as the title suggests. It represents change, exterior (e.g., geographical) change and interior change. The move to Europe was a kind of rebirth for me. I feel, sound, even, I think, look different. Since recording The Shift I have further reworked my musical language and concepts. Some of the results of that development will be apparent on solo piano recordings (done in 2009) that I will likely release in the near future. I am also planning to record a trio album. My trio in Bologna, Italy can be heard at YouTube playing my composition, The Shift, live at the Borghi e Frazioni festival. Please find performance, bio and new release information, as well as album excerpts at the websites Myspace (including Pockets from this album) and johnserry.com (when it reopens after a make over) If you did not get an email message from me about this release and would like to be on an email list for future releases and occasional news, send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that you will enjoy this new album, The Shift. It is my fourth released album, 17 years after my CD Enchantress and more than 30 years after my first two LPs, Exhibition and Jazziz.