Rock / Prog / Jazz Fusion (US)
Original release 1974
Light Year was formed in 1974, when drummer Zak McGrath joined forces with his friend and colleague, pianist Cornelius Williams, with the idea of putting together a band to play new music. They recruited Randy Sellgren to play guitar, who was also the guitarist on Mingo Lewis's album "Flight Never Ending". John Yu, the bass player, brought Doug Johnson to play percussion (vibes, marimba, hand drums and other bells and whistles). The singer Sharon Pucci joined later to complete the ensemble.
The band was fortunate in having a fledgling manager, Sandy Einstein, who later went on to success with Journey and Mr. Big. Einstein's energy and persistence secured Light Year gigs at the best clubs in the Bay Area, as well as the reviews reproduced on this site, despite the definite oddness of their music. The one thing the band could not achieve was a record contract.
Light Year was, as a rule, admired by the public and reviled by club owners. They were also championed by such notable groups as The Tubes and The Sons of Champlin, who would persuade reluctant impresarios to let Light Year open for them. One exception was Todd Barkan of the well-known jazz spot Keystone Korner, who liked them and booked them on Monday nights--one of the few unsigned groups to play Keystone. But most clubs refused to book them more than once.
Their big "showcase" gig at the Starwood in Los Angeles was marked by record executives exiting the club en masse with their hands over their ears. Without a contract, and with the scarcity of gigs and money fraying their psyches, the band broke up after less than two years.
Sharon Pucci: Vocals
Randy Sellgren: Guitar
Zak McGrath: Drums
Cornelius Williams: Keyboards
John Yu: Bass
Doug Johnson: Percussion
"Our manager called our music "Space-Rock" , but that was a naked marketing ploy designed to lure the unwary into the clubs. The music was rockish, yes, and jazzesque, not to mention symphonoid. But had you asked me at the time, I would have said it was a sonic alchemical experiment gone horribly awry, or the liturgical music for a yet-to-be-invented blend of Punch-and-Judy and High Mass. Cryptically, it was also a fiendishly clever coded communiqué to the Extra-Dimensionals who rule our universe. The text? "Send food". What can I say? We were starving. After thirty-six years, we have finally received a reply: "Please leave a message after the beep". Well! That´s the space-time continuum for you. My message to listener is simply to imagine you´ve dropped into a corner dive in the Pleiades and find yourself shimmering to the Combo Ork there. Feel free to do the dance known as the Luminous Spasm. And don´t scream. No one can hear you over the edible noise." Raymond McGrath 2010
Formed in 1974, Light Year were what seems to be a short lived fusion band operating out of the Bay Area of San Francisco. After support slots with the likes of The Tubes, the band's attempts to secure a record contract culminated in a showcase gig that had "....record executives exiting the club en masse with their hands over their ears" according to their biog.
From what I've heard they certainly did not deserve such treatment, as they serve up a potent stew of jazz fusion music that fair belts along. A highly competent ensemble featuring the diverse talents of Cornelius Williams (piano), Zak McGrath (drums), Randy Sellgren (guitars), John Yu (bass), Doug Johnson (percussion, marimba, vibes, etc) and the soaring vocals of Sharon Pucci.
This album, a posthumous collection of recordings finally seeing the light of day some 36 years after the event, kicks off with a crash and Giant Babies sees some furious guitar work from Randy and is an indication that if, like me, jazz fusion ticks all your right boxes, we're in for a treat. Sharon's melancholy lines in this song based around the refrain "Don't forget my love" do not prepare you for the outpourings of her soaring larynx on the next song, Zada. Some of you may be familiar with the renowned UK jazz singer Cleo Laine, and Sharon's voice, possibly starting from a higher point, puts me in mind of the British chanteuse. Probably the best vehicle for Sharon on the album is the poignant penultimate song The World, a lovely piece of work. She also gets to do some reasonable scat singing, especially on Buggy Cadavers (Nirvana would have killed for a song title like that!).
The rest of the band certainly get to show their chops, which are up there with the best fusion bands of the 70s. Think Return To Forever meets Zappa at his jazziest, with a bit of Etheridge era Soft Machine thrown in for good measure. Buggy Cadavers features Doug Johnson, who gets to hit all manner of vibes and similar instruments. The Nocturnal Avenger Of Human Potential (another great title) might have been what Black Sabbath would have sounded like if their formative influences were jazz rather than blues. It rocks!
The last song, the 20 minute Aura/Open Any Windows is a tour de force of jazz rock stylings and has a distinctly Black Napkins feel to it in the first 10 minutes or so, no bad thing indeed! The second half of this epic features mucho percussion and some nice scatting by Sharon, before leading into a keyboard led improv.
Before I reviewed this album I had never heard of this band, and I can well see myself returning to the album again and again. If you're a fan of 70s jazz fusion, buy this and you won't be disappointed.