Great artists can't help but respond to the world around them, absorbing the tensions, angst and joys vibrating throughout society. At the same time, musicians provide energy for the necessary struggle, washing away the dust of everyday life, as drum legend Art Blakey said, describing jazz's transformative power. This double duty is at the core of pianist Laszlo Gardony's new solo album Serious Play. He created most of the music spontaneously in the studio, with a few soulful reimaginations of beloved standards added, providing a potent reminder that the longtime Berklee College of Music professor is one of jazz's most emotionally trenchant and melodically inventive solo piano practitioners. Serious Play is Gardony 12th album and 9th recording for Sunnyside. Possessing a ravishing touch and a singular style that draws on the post-bop continuum, various strains of folk music and his Central European classical training, he went into the studio with two goals that went hand in hand, says Gardony, who couldn't help but carry with him an acute sense of rising anxiety in the country. One goal was to sit down and improvise for an extended amount of time, revisiting the compositional approach that led to Clarity, his celebrated 2013 solo piano session. "The other was to organically connect that soul-baring material to soul soothing arrangements of beloved standards."