April 2, 2016 by Admin
I was very fortunate to have attended, on March 26, 2016, a performance, at LIU Post – Long Island University’s Hillwood Commons Recital Hall, of Spero Plays Nyro, this being the wonderful singer/pianist Christine Spero and her band performing songs by the late, much-lamented Laura Nyro, who died in 1997 at the absurdly young age of 49.
Growing up in the late 1960s on Long Island and listening to the AM radio of the day, I had two favorite songwriters, Jimmy Webb and Laura Nyro. I’ve been able to see Webb in performance several times and even met him in person, but never had the chance to see Ms. Nyro in concert. As consolation prizes go, Ms. Spero’s Nyro show was quite a nice one and probably as close as I’ll get to the original.
Spero presented a lovely mix of Nyro’s better-known songs (having gotten that way courtesy of such performers as The Fifth Dimension, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Three Dog Night), lesser-known gems, the songwriter’s own recordings that charted, and even an original Spero composition, Laura and John, about Nyro’s admiration for John Coltrane.
These were all performed by Spero and her band with the wonderful longing, drive and soul that characterized Nyro’s recordings. The performances were never straight-up, note-for-note recreations, but were in fact expansions of the songs inherent jazz, blues, gospel and R&B elements. In that sense, this was Nyro re-interpreted, something I suspect she may have appreciated.
The fine band was bassist Scott Petito, drummer Peter O’Brien and saxophonist/ percussionist Elliot Spero. They were solid throughout, and truly seemed to enjoy the stretching of the jazz elements in a number of the tunes that gave them solos, in which Elliot Spero was especially effective on both tenor and soprano sax. Being a lapsed (and not very good to begin with) bassist, I kept hoping the excellent Petito would take an extended solo, but alas. The steady and creative O’Brien has wonderful dynamic control.
My only wish for future performances of Spero Plays Nyro would be that Ms. Spero would speak more about Nyro herself, and the circumstances under which the songs were written. That aside, this is a marvelous, spirited show that brings the great Laura Nyro back to life as much as can be reasonably hoped for.
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