Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

7

Shamek Farrah: First Impressions

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Launched by trumpeter Charles Tolliver and pianist Stanley Cowell in New York in 1971, the Strata-East label became synonymous with the black-consciousness informed spiritual-jazz movement which was perhaps the crowning glory of African American music during the 1970s. By the close of the decade, the label had released just shy of 60 albums, an impressive catalogue for a company founded on a shoestring and run for love rather than profit by two musicians, neither of whom had any previous business experience. Cash flow was boosted, of course, by the success of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson's Winter In America in 1974. The disc made Billboard's top ten jazz albums chart. Better still, the break-out single, "The Bottle," was a top twenty R&B hit. This success did not make Strata-East rich—its contracts were weighted in favour of the artists—but it paid some debts and allowed the label to keep functioning.

Alongside Tolliver and Cowell, forward-looking musicians who recorded for Strata-East, attracted by its laissez-faire artistic policy and radical socio-cultural outlook, included Pharoah Sanders, Charles Brackeen, Clifford Jordan, the poet Jayne Cortez (for 10 years the wife of Ornette Coleman), Sonny Fortune, Plunky Nkabinde's Juju, Bill Lee (father of Spike Lee), Max Roach's M'Boom and James Mtume's Umoja.

All these artists recorded tours de force for Strata-East, but one of the label's most magnificent releases has been one of the most overlooked. It is the spiritual-jazz masterpiece First Impressions by alto saxophonist Shamek Farrah. Originally released in 1974, it has in spring 2018 been reissued in a 180-gram vinyl remastered-edition by Pure Pleasure.

First Impression's relative obscurity is probably explained by the fact that most of the musicians involved, great artists though the disc reveals them to be, went on to record little and retire early from active music making. At least two of them fell foul of heroin addiction. Farrah himself recorded one more album for Strata-East, 1977's The World Of The Children, another blinder, before going off radar in the early 1980s. The only participant subsequently to enjoy a reasonably productive recording career was bassist Milton Suggs, who went to record with Elvin Jones, Roland Kirk, Byron Morris & Unity and Famadou Don Moye, but even Suggs had faded from view by the end of 1980s. Suggs's biggest contribution to First Impressions is the killer ostinato which, in harness with a three-strong drum and percussion section, drives the title track forward. (Suggs's work continues to inspire muscians in 2018. His bass line for Byron Morris & Unity's "Kitty Bey," from the 1974 E.P.I. album Blow Thru' Your Mind, is celebrated on the previously reviewed Toshio Matsuura album, Loveplaydance: 8 Scenes From The Floor, on Brownswood Recordings).

"First Impressions" is one of both spiritual jazz and funk jazz's great treasures, up there with Pharoah Sanders's "Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt" from Tauhid (Impulse, 1967) and Donald Byrd's "The Emperor" from Ethiopian Knights (Blue Note, 1972). Alongside Farrah and Suggs's input, the track is further lifted by the almost-literally magical piano playing of Sonelius Smith (who co-headlined The World Of The Children). The entire album is outstanding. But the title track alone qualifies it for a five-star rating.

Track Listing: Side One: Meterologicly Tuned; Watch What Happens Now. Side Two: Umoja Suite; First Impressions.

Personnel: Shamek Farrah: alto saxophone; Norman Person: trumpet; Kasa Mu-Barak Allah: piano (tracks 1/1, 1/2); Sonelius Smith: piano (tracks 2/1, 2/2); Milton Suggs: bass; Clay Herndon: drums (track 1/1, 1/2); Ron Warwell: drums (tracks 2/1, 2/2); Calvert “Bo” Satter-White: conga (tracks 2/1, 2/2); Kenny Harper: percussion (tracks 2/1, 2/2).

Title: First Impressions | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Pure Pleasure / Strata-East

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
First Impressions

First Impressions

Pure Pleasure / Strata-East
2018

buy
 

First Impressions

Bomba Records
2006

buy
La Dee La La

La Dee La La

Quadraphonic Sound Module
2005

buy
 

La Dee La La

Bomba Records
2004

buy

Related Articles

Read Pillars CD/LP/Track Review
Pillars
by Karl Ackermann
Published: December 10, 2018
Read Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk CD/LP/Track Review
Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious...
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 10, 2018
Read Pardes CD/LP/Track Review
Pardes
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: December 10, 2018
Read Strings 1 CD/LP/Track Review
Strings 1
by Mark Corroto
Published: December 10, 2018
Read Music for a Free World CD/LP/Track Review
Music for a Free World
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 10, 2018
Read Rats Live on No Evil Star CD/LP/Track Review
Rats Live on No Evil Star
by Jack Bowers
Published: December 9, 2018
Read "Change In The Air" CD/LP/Track Review Change In The Air
by Mark Sullivan
Published: October 15, 2018
Read "Simply Because It's Winter" CD/LP/Track Review Simply Because It's Winter
by David A. Orthmann
Published: October 25, 2018
Read "Live at Village Vanguard Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets)" CD/LP/Track Review Live at Village Vanguard Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets)
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 6, 2018
Read "One Day It Will" CD/LP/Track Review One Day It Will
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: April 7, 2018
Read "Lessons Learned" CD/LP/Track Review Lessons Learned
by Jerome Wilson
Published: December 5, 2018
Read "In Stride" CD/LP/Track Review In Stride
by Friedrich Kunzmann
Published: March 26, 2018