Shamek Farrah & Sonelius Smith – The World Of The Children – Strata-East Records SES 19771 (1977)/Pure Pleasure Records (2021) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 32:02 ****:
(Shamek Farrah – alto saxophone; Joseph Gardener – trumpet; Sonelius Smith – piano; Kiyoto Fuiwara – bass; Milton Suggs – bass; Freddie Wrenn – drums; Tony Waters – percussion)
Strata-East Records was known for its unique representation of spiritual jazz. While introducing global (especially Eastern) influences, the label maintained its gritty urban persona, carving out a unique jazz niche. The lineup of artists delivered personal solo projects and frequently appeared on each other’s albums. One of the performers who epitomized the Strata-East vision was alto saxophonist Shamek Farrah. He got started in the New York City jazz scene and was signed to Strata at the age of 25. His debut First Impressions was released in 1974. His next album (The World Of The Children) was a collaboration with label mate Sonelius Smith. The essence of aspirational soul, free jazz and lyrical expression underscored the mission of this under-the-radar jazz company.
Pure Pleasure Records has released a 180-gram vinyl re-mastering of The World Of The Children With a stellar group of session players, Farrah and Smith take the listener on a journey that speaks to the mind, ear and soul. Side One opens with the atmospheric title track. After a simple percussion and piano chord dialogue, an intro morphs into a rollicking jam when Shamek Farrah (alto saxophone) and Joseph Gardener (trumpet) combine. Gardner takes the first solo with crisp, trilling runs. Farrah lends an exotic shading with his alto, pushing the tonal boundaries. The hard-driving rhythm section (Sonelius Smith/Kiyoto Fuiwara/Freddie Wrenn/Tony Waters) sustains the intensity. Smith (the composer) shines on acoustic piano with a complicated, transcendental improvisation. It incorporates both Latin and African patterns. The nearly 10-minute number is captivating. Another Smith composition (“Conversation Piece”) captures the opposing earthy and graceful abstraction. Gardener’s piercing trumpet is followed by the unique free jazz touch of Farrah. Smith articulates his improvisational dexterity with airy right hand notation and muscular chords. When the ensemble unites, the expanded sound and chemistry is palpable.
Side Two offers a surprising double bass performance by Milton Suggs (“Milt: A Bass Solo”). In a concise 2:57, he delivers a virtual master-class on double bass. Suggs defies any stereotype of bass as simply a supporting instrument, gliding through a variety of tempos and demonstrating instrumental finesse. On Farrah’s lone composition (“People Puttin’ People Through Changes”), the quintet approximates a medium bebop vibe with the perfectly matched alto and trumpet sharing lead. Farrah eases into a bluesy solo with deft timing, before Gardener gives a more classic jazz reading. Smith’s minimalist eloquence on piano is especially potent. The song concludes with the quintet dynamics of horn/sax framed by a cohesive rhythm section. Gardener penned the finale, “Julius”. The band gets a groove going, aided by Kiyoto Fuiwara’s walking bass line. Freddie Wrenn’s cymbal work is excellent. Here, Farrah relies on lower-register play which changes the feeling. This low-key swing jam utilizes subtle modulation. Sonelius Smith continues his delicate, soulful licks before the group finishes together.
Kudos to Pure Pleasure Records for this updated vinyl of The World Of The Children. Smaller labels like Strata-East had a significant if not under-appreciated role in moving jazz forward in the 1970’s. A quality, detailed mix and attention to original packaging (including the out-of-focus album cover) are a welcome addition to the jazz legacy.
Side One: The World Of The Children; Conversation Piece
Side Two: Milt: A Bass Solo; People Puttin’ People Through Changes; Julius.
For more information on this vinyl release, please visit distributor Acoustic Sounds: