Shamek Farrah & Sonelius Smith ‘The World of the Children’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

One of the rarest spiritual soul-jazz albums from Charles Tolliver’s Strata-East camp is reissued for the first time outside of Japan. Recorded in 1977, Shamek Farrah’s ‘The World Of The Children’ was added to the many great albums that came through the Strata-East label during the 1970s. It follows the saxophonist’s classic debut album ‘First Impressions’ which was released three years earlier and again, the music epitomises the particular sound associated with the New York based label and the artists on board the roster.

Shamek Farrah only released around three albums in the 1970s, yet his reputation has resonated through the jazz community over the years, featuring on various compilations and reissues put out by labels including Sounds Of The Universe and Soul Brother Records. His sound seems so effortless, carrying a great tone and lyrical curiousness.

Pianist Sonelius Smith’s unique style brings a welcome contrast and spark for Shamek’s playing on this outing. His sharp percussive angles and contrasting sparse runs sit well with Shamek’s lyrical soulful tone. The pianist brings touches of classical idiosyncrasy and free jazz to each piece with the influences of McCoy Tyner, Glenn Gould and maybe even Cecil Taylor running through most of the compositions.

The album opens up with the 10 minute ‘The World Of The Children’ composition by pianist Sonelius Smith and it’s a definite highlight from the album. Tony Waters sets the scene with an array of colourful percussive instruments creating the perfect backdrop before the track starts to build into a celebratory buoyant tempo. The rhythm and Shamek Farrah’s delivery bring to mind the late great Arthur Blythe and his classic ‘Down Santiago Way’ track… David Murray recorded the piece for his early 90’s album ‘South Of The Border’, on which the composer Sonelius Smith also featured and it’s a superb variation worthy of attention.

On ‘People Puttin People Through Changes’ the striding bass and easy drumming create a perfect tempo for Shamek’s soulful gliding tone. It’s the only composition written by the leader and the shifting rhythm creates a perfect platform for the more melodic playing of pianist Sonelius Smith who really brings something different to the track.

The track ‘Milt: A Bass Solo’ features the inventive bassist Milton Suggs bringing his distinctive brooding funky style to the forefront with a three-minute solo that is probably one of those moments best experienced live. His composition is the only piece on which he features. His style favoured many great jazz musicians including Mary Lou Williams, who had trouble finding a suitable bassist for her ‘Zoning’ album until Milton came along.

Onboard with Shamek Farrah playing alto saxophone is Kiyoto Fujiwara on bass, Freddie Wrenn on drums, percussionist Tony Waters, pianist Sonelius Smith, Joseph Gardner on trumpet and Milton Suggs on bass for his own composition ‘Milt: A Bass Solo’.

The album is reissued through Pure Pleasure Records on 180g Analog Audiophile vinyl and a welcome reissue for anyone into the Strata-East sound.

Mark Jones