Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Shamek Farrah - 1974 - First Impressions

Shamek Farrah 
1974 
First Impressions




01. Meterologicly Tuned 11:00
02. Watch What Happens Now 5:35
03. Umoja Suite 7:21
04. First Impressions 11:29

MUSICIANS tracks 1-2

Alto Sax - Shamek Farrah
Bass - Milton Suggs
Trumpet - Norman Person
Piano - Kasa Mu-Barak Allah
Drums - Clay Herndon

MUSICIANS tracks 3-4

Alto Sax - Shamek Farrah
Bass - Milton Suggs
Conga - Calvert "Bo" Satter-White
Drums - Ron Warwell
Percussion - Kenny Harper
Piano - Sonelius Smith
Trumpet - Norman Person




As Strata-East Records 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-East 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), swirling 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).

Check the "First Impressions" above. When I was about fourteen years old, a few years after this record would have come out, a late night US radio DJ used to play this song every night - I guess he was kind of obsessed with it. Soon, I was too - it was like an alien message being transmitted into my cheap AM radio headphones. The bass - percussion - drums unit holds down a dark, finger-snap funk, while saxaphonist Shamek Farrah and trumpeter Norman Person emit this eerie, wailing series of rolling arpeggios, almost falling into quarter tone gaps.

At fourteen, I thought of snake charmers and other Hollywood-style images of the middle east, there was something exotic here. But it's really pianist Sonelius Smith who takes us on the journey in "First Impressions". In his slightly distant, reverbed space, he rhythmically and melodically skirts around the other musicians, tone clusters rolling up and down the piano to settle in clouds of arpeggiated colour - it's almost as if he drifts off, only to get brought back by the insistent pull of Milton Suggs' bass and Kenny Harper / Calvert Satter-White's hypnotic click percussion. It's still my favourite piano performance, and an extraordinary piece of music ....

Kevin Moist says : 

As Strata-East Records 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-East 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), swirling 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).

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