22 September 2006
SHAMEK FARRAH - FIRST IMPRESSIONS
As Strata East got rolling one of the admirable things it was able to do was offer a platform to some more obscure artists who weren’t being heard elsewise, folks like Billy Parker’s Fourth World (including DeeDee, Ronald, and Cecil Bridgewater); the Washington, DC ensemble Juju (who evolved
from an Art Ensemble knock-off into the great jazz-funk band Oneness of Juju by the mid-70s); and alto sax player Shamek Farrah. I don’t really know too much about Shamek except that he made two great albums of spiritual jazz for Strata in 1974 and ’77 (the second and half of the first in collaboration with pianist Sonelius Smith). Both are way cool, but my favorite is probably this one, recorded with 2 slightly different ensembles but consistent in style: largely dark, minor-mode pieces w/a drone implied or explicit and executed w/plenty of edge. The playing is chunky, heavy, and group-minded; Farrah emits a glorious wail on alto sax that takes the lead on most cuts but still leaves plenty of elbow room for everybody else. The most “out” cut is the opener, Meterologically Tuned (titled perhaps for the bracingly out-of-tune trumpet & sax on the intro & outro unison melodies), skirling horns and percussive piano and a rhythm that moves in and out of focus throughout; while the album closer, First Impressions, hovers like fog above a loping bassline digging a moody jazz-funk furrow so deep it’s hard to see up over the edge (no surprise it was sampled by Tribe Called Quest some years back). One of those obscure gems that dot the catalog and are really deserving of proper CD reissue (there are relatively inexpensive vinyl copies making the LP-reissue rounds periodically; I am uncertain as to legality of parentage on those & so will resist exhorting their purchase).
Kevin Moist on the case again for this review.
Alto Sax: - Shamek Farrah
Bass: - Milton Suggs
Conga: - Calvert "Bo" Satter-White
Drums: - Ron Warwell
Percussion: - Kenny Harper
Piano: - Sonelius Smith
Trumpet: - Norman Person