. . .
Selection: B2. People putting People Through Changes (Farrah)
. . .
A1. The World Of The Children 9:58
A2. Conversation Piece 6:28
B1. Milt: A Bass Solo 2:57
B2. People Puttin People Through Changes 7:17
B3. Julius 5:22
Shamek Farrah, alto sax; Joseph Gardener, trumpet; Sonelius Smith, piano; Kiyoto Fuiwara, Milton Suggs, bass; Freddie Wrenn, drums; Tony Waters, percussion; recorded at Sound Ideas, April 1976; George Klabin, recording engineer; Session Supervision Ron Warwell, cover design and “photography”
Re-mastering engineer for Pure Pleasure: Ray Staff, Air Studios, Hampstead, London NW3, pressing by Pallas GmbH.
Alto saxophonist Shamek Farrah, born Anthony Domacase, signed to Strata East at the age of 25, in the musically turbulent late 70’s. He led two albums, before moving briefly to RA Records with most of his associates, and then disappeared from view. His recordings are reissued periodically in the US, and Japan, where he has attracted a cult following.
All Music eviscerate “World of the Children“:
“If you’re wondering who Shamek Farrah was, and why his vision is important, this record won’t clear up the mystery. This is a fine slab of what one expects from Strata-East, soul jazz in a spiritual vein, delivered with passion and precision. But of all the players here, the leader, and his co-billed companion, Sonelius Smith, are completely in the background, overwhelmed by the talents of their sidemen including the vibrant trumpet of Joseph Gardner and the swaggering thunder of bassist Milton Suggs.
The first side of the album sounds regrettably like warmed over Pharaoh Sanders. The second side improves things a bit, but when the lead off track is a three-minute bass solo by one of your sidemen, you can’t help but wonder who’s really in charge.”
LJC says: Oh dear.. .. .. I’m inclined to agree about Side 1, which is why my selection is tracks from Side 2. Even so, Farrah is not a great alto player, poor timing and lacking in the flow of melodic ideas, and the compositions are weak, but it’s here for you to judge for yourself. This post is a jumping-off point for a look at the Strata East phenomenon, and Pure Pleasure reissues, not a recommendation of this particular title.
Strata-East is prized for its unique presentation of spiritual soul jazz in the 70s. Post-Bop, avant-leaning, Eastern and Afro-Jazz influences, the label maintained its gritty urban persona, carving out a unique niche in jazz. Their line up of artists delivered personal solo projects – the label founders outings, some big names – Clifford Jordan, Cecil McBee, Sonny Fortune, Harold Vick – and relative unknowns. One of the unknowns was saxophonist Shamek Farrah, who combines a swinging soul groove and free jazz with lyrical expression, the trademark of Strata East.
Hailing from the second half of the 70s, Farrah’s septet consisted of more unknowns, at least unknown to me. Session supervision is by a Norman Person, a name which roundly defeats Google, apart from “people who come from Normandy“, and the suggestion “do you want to include results for normal people?” This Strata East outing is a mystery tour, you have nothing to hold onto other than the music itself, as you find it. It’s an enjoyable ride, and it’s different from my daily fare, and sometimes something different is a good thing in itself.
Vinyl: SES-19771 180 gram reissue LP by Pure Pleasure
Re-mastered for Pure Pleasure by Ray Staff at Air Mastering, London. Source for the remaster not declared, therefore a digital master, but a decent mastering job, just sonically a little dead compared with how I think it should sound. Perhaps that is how the original sounds.
Shamek Farrah led only three albums: two for Strata East and a third for “RA Records”. His Strata East debut, First Impressions, an original copy recently fetched over $1,500 at auction, impossibly rare and impossibly expensive.
The World Of The Children trails badly behind in auction prices, at only $300 maximum, though not untypical price for relatively scarce original Strata East albums.
Farrah’s third title, La Dee La La (1980) for RA Records, reached a more respectable $471 in the hands of master record seller Bob Dj…..
First Impressions has a serious collectability factor, with an outstanding cover graphic design. The World Of The Children, with Warwell’s hand-held camera out-of-focus “family snap” is a pretty tired image even for 1977. La Dee La La, is… well, I’m at a loss for words, colourful? Intriguingly obscure, and of course, judged by the logo, RA Records is a reference to Ra, as in Sun Ra.
This was Farrah’s last known work (1980), and moves in a different direction, a lightweight Latin swinger, with Farrah standing in for David Sanborn or Kenny G.. What happened next to Shamek is unknown, rising from obscurity and returning to obscurity, with a passing entry in the jazz catalogue.
Pure Pleasure (UK) Strata East reissues
I have a dozen original Strata East records, of which I am proud, but I have long wondered about the quality of Pure Pleasure (UK) reissues of Strata East, of which I now have three. They are inexpensive, and when this one popped up in front of me, I thought, give it another go. It wasn’t the greatest choice, but you never know until you try.
What about “Pure Pleasure reissues“? Comment from a Steve Hoffman Forum Resident:
“Pure Pleasure is a UK based “audiophile” reissue label. It has the widest range and issues the most unusual titles of all the audiophile labels. There have been going for well over 10 years and have released 200+ titles.
They have used some of the best mastering engineers in the business including Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman and all of their titles are pressed at Pallas in Germany.
I think for the first 10 years at least they only released AAA titles but more recently they have been a bit more guarded about their sources, which leads me to believe that they are not always AAA.
They have released a few less than stellar sounding titles but generally they are a top class reissue label – maybe just slightly below AP, Music Matters, MFSL, Intervention, Impex etc, in terms of quality product”
Hoffman Forum Resident, Brighton, UK.
Hoffman Forum has five pages of discussion on the Pure Pleasure label, particularly their Strata East recordings and sources. Most of the comment on Hoffman is of the “sounds good to me” school, caveat “but I don’t have anything to compare it with”. Consensus is PP in recent years are using digital sources, but with high approval rating.
Why is it so hard for record companies to declare their sources? Food companies are legally required to declare ingredients, and country of origin. Food “made from the best ingredients available” is not good enough. If a record is re-mastered the original tape, show us the tape box. If it is remastered from a copy tape, or a backup safety tape, still AAA, say so. If the source is a digital master made from a needle-drop, declare it. Why is the truth so difficult?
I wonder if Strata East Inc. themselves are the reason for obfuscation, a condition of licensing. Perhaps they no longer have the original tapes, but it is not in their interest to say so, and better leave the question open.
One of the darker themes in the Hoffman discussion thread is the quality of original Strata East recordings themselves. In my experience, they sound average for 70s US recordings and pressings, some better. Any limitations are the quality of the original recording session and engineer. AAA may be the audiophile gold standard, but not all original tapes sound very good.
Strata East Recordings
The Strata East label is noted for its artistic independence, its distinctive spiritual-soul jazz catalogue, and the scarcity of Strata East original pressings – hard to find and expensive when found. It is not especially noted for high fidelity/ audiophile qualities.
Forum chatter only occasionally notes the bewildering number of studios and engineers who recorded, mixed and cut Strata East records. Though Ron Carran’s Minot Sounds, White Plains, NYC turns up quite frequently on the credits, between 1971 and 1974, the first 25-30 titles, (58 titles in the decade) over a half dozen different studios, a dozen or more different recording engineers, and numerous mixing and cutting engineers.
A Jazz Times article, Strata East an Oral History, may have the explanation: Strata East’s initial business plan proposed “the artist-producers would keep 85 percent of the return, and the label would get 15 percent for manufacturing and distribution”. The caveat was, “the artist had to bring a finished master tape, ready for releasing.” So it was the artist’s choice where and who recorded it..
Studios where Strata East titles were recorded: Minot Sound, Audio One, DB Sound, Sound Studios, Sound Ideas, Impact Sound, Generation Sound, Blue Rock Studio, The Warehouse, Eastern Recording Studios, Chuck Glaser Productions.
Engineering credits (recording/mixing/cutting): Joe Jorgensen, Ronald Blau, John Sadler, Rudy Cotman, Randy Adler, Richard Adler, Richard Alderson, Orville O’Brien, John Battiloro, Eddie Korvin, Tom Williams, Tony May, Kyle Lehning, George Klabin, Dave Crawford, Jose Williams, Bill Robertson, Marty Payne.
It is hardly surprising there is little consistency in the audio quality from one Strata East title to the next! A few of the engineers had a jazz pedigree, notably Orville O’Brien and George Klabin, most others, jobbing engineers, rock, pop, blues, country, whatever pays.
Label founders Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell were immersed in the label’s musical direction. Signing relatively unknown artists, against the commercial tide, was courageous, but with the Strata East label, record buyers knew what they were likely to get musically, without having to know the artists.
My search for audiophile quality in Strata East may be a fools errand, or at least a Steve Hoffman Forum errand. An original, if afforded, may not be the prize you hope for. You have what you have: the music. And for sellers and collectors alike, you have the delights of scarcity.
I think Pure Pleasure/ Ray Hall make the best of what they have, which is almost certainly a digital source file, skilfully re-mastered for vinyl, and high quality pressing at Pallas. If you are up for the music, it is not a bad way to go.
In recent years, Strata-East Records Inc. has been licensing recordings to a number of reissue-labels around the world: Pure Pleasure (UK); Everland Jazz (NL), Superfly (Fr), Bellaphon (D) and a slew of labels in Japan: Think!, Shout!, Bomba and P-Vine.
The original tapes may have been considered the property of the artist, but Strata East began reissuing titles on CD in 1991, twenty years later. They must have held at least a copy tape to remaster for CD. What do they use today? It seems a question no-one can get a straight answer, which is an answer in itself.
UPDATE May 30: Further thoughts on the use of “needle-drops” as sources.
Possibly Strata East Inc. has a library of original pressings, possibly a digital copy library, or possibly nothing at all, just legal title: it’s all under The Cone of Silence. That suggests they no longer have the original tapes, and perhaps never did. Most likely, Strata East contemporary reissues are merely a licensed recording, which someone has permission to manufacture, in the absence of tape, from a digitally sourced file – a needle-drop.
I’m guessing how vinyl manufacture from needle-drop works. A studio somewhere rips a digital file from a vinyl copy. The signal is already optimised for vinyl, because it is from vinyl, unlike CD. This digital master may be lossless and high resolution, but some information is lost in the process because it’s digitally sampled and filtered. The digital master will need to be cleaned up to remove vinyl surface noise – clicks, pops, rumble and distortion. That’s a concern: good frequencies sacrificed in the process of removing bad frequencies, collateral damage.
The digital masterfile is transferred electronically to a pressing plant, who convert the digital master file into an analogue metal master, to press however many vinyl copies are required: ADA – Analogue-Digital-Analogue chain, not all analogue, AAA.
Printed sticker: “Analogue Limited Edition, on 180gm vinyl, from ‘the best available sources’ ”, job done. Every word is true, just not the whole truth.
A needle-drop circumvents the difficulty of access to original tapes, if they exist, though not the difficulty of accessing original vinyl. No guarantee which vinyl edition the needle drop is from – it could be a later reissue, even a previous needle drop, a copy of a copy. Margins are too small to search for original vinyl sources, no need. There is a business model that works: customers seem happy with the product price and quality, though some complain residual surface noise is still present, and few have an original for comparison.
I think I finally got it. ADA reissues are not “audiophile”. The original vinyl is audiophile, but it is priced out of the reach of most audiophiles by “record collectors”, who value the scarcity of the original artefact more.
Call me out.
LJC Horizon Watch
Expected by end of the year, late November 2022, Pharoah Sanders, Karma, I guess an official “audiophile” AAA release with the right credentials judged by the price. Short on detail at this stage – no mention of Karma on the official Impulse site, but on pre-order from some outlets, like Juno. Perhaps there is a Masterplan. Interesting.
More thoughts or information on Strata East originals and reissues welcome, or the practice of vinyl reissues from needle-drops. I know nothing, well, very little, but I’d like to know more.