Review: Laura Nyro – “Season Of Lights… Laura Nyro In Concert” [Iconoclassic 2008]
Think about it: Season Of Lights, published in 1977 as the first live album by the New Yorker Laura Nyro (prematurely died in 1997) as well as her second album after five years of artistic silence following the marriage with the carpenter David Bianchini, is generally and rightly regarded as a missed chance.
There are plenty of reasons: because there was neither a coherent nor an organic outline; because it only featured the recent author’s passion for some rock-jazz, which was already marking the contemporary Smile (’76); because it flew over that urban, pianistic and intense folk composed by a 20-something artist featuring in the first albums (at least three of them should be owned at any cost: Eli And The Thirteenth Confession [’68], New York Tendaberry [’69], Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat [’70]), often quoted in unrecognizable terms.
The thing is that it only had ten pieces instead of selecting others from a tour gone down in history for the unusual line-up of the backing band mainly made up of fine jazz-based sidemen recruited around NY. Laura Nyro would have rather published a double 16-pieces LP but Columbia chose to release a single 10-pieces album. Of the original artist’s version, only a Japanese edition dated back to 1995 was known but it was soon out of print.
Thus, we welcome the new and conclusive reissue by Iconoclassic, small and fierce label based in Massachusetts, which is gaining ground thanks to a series of state-of-art reissues (in their catalogue there is also the following Nyro’s album – i.e. the still moderated Nested of 1978).
The director’s cut – even though there was no official producer, Laura Nyro features as “musical director” – of Season Of Lights is anything but a botched album. Quite the opposite. It shows all the artist’s souls through plenty of shades and an amazing jazzy elegance, her peculiar fusion of rock and Broadway grandeur melodies between gospel and rhytm’n’blues, between grieved pop and lonely piano melodies. There are also jazz elements, improvisations and digressions on apparently mild sonorities, which had already affected listeners in those days. Today it surprises again for the fluency, rhythm, accuracy and fantasy merged in the new rich details offered by the digital era. It couldn’t be any different since the album stars all Smile’s musicians (except the Michael and Randy Brecker brothers), i.e. Richard Davis playing the double-bass, George Young playing the sax (he resigned after a few dates, but he was substituted by three colleagues: Jean Fineberg, Ellen Seeling and Jeff King), the drummer Andy Newmark, the vibraphoner Michael Mainieri and the percussionists Nydia Mata and Carter C.C. Collins.
Listen to what these guys play in the last minutes of a Timer restored for the occasion, which sounds like a fusion version of the Joe Bataan’s latin R&B, and you will understand why up to then the Blood, Sweat & Tears (in 1968 Laura Nyro gave them the superb And When I Die) were just kidding. In the original LP some other pieces are missing such as the lively, latin Money, the sweet Sweet Lovin’ Baby (Jackson Browne temporary playing in Manhattan?), the unpublished The Morning News, the enchanting dream of I Am The Blues, never been so consuming and, above all, the remote monologues for single keyboard of the wonderful Midnite Blue and the other version of Timer, this time drenched in meditation and concentration, that closes the album as ghost-track. Among the more popular pieces, there are the superb When I Was A Freeport And You Were The Main Drag for solo piano, the Captain St. Lucifer transformed into a funky sultry bacchanalia and the melancholy Sweet Blindness played by Laura Nyro’s keys and John Tropea’s nocturnal guitar (recruited for his “bravery” on Van Morrison’s side).
But now, with them, there are other six reasons to state that Season of Lights – together with Joni Mitchell going from For The Roses (’72) to Mingus (’79) – is the best example of the blend between jazz, rock and songwriting coming out the all 1970s.
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