Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Continuing with our current series of examinations of rare jazz reissues, up next is a recent rerelease of Shamek Farrah’s 1974 odyssey ‘First Impressions’.
Alto Saxophonist and bandleader Shamek Farrah released his debut long player in the midst of a soul-jazz explosion. The subgenre struck up in the late ’60s and by the early portion of the following decade, it was one of the styles of choice for many free-thinking jazz groups. Farrah’s debut, ‘First Impressions’, may be one of a large clutch of such albums but make no mistake in thinking that it blends into the crowd. A bedrock of slickly nuanced drums and bass set the laid-back pace over which both brass and piano solo, with all the grace and soul that a great jazz band relies upon. Farrah composes the album’s two longest cuts, which bookend two (relatively) shorter pieces. The opening epic ‘Meteorologically Tuned’ is perhaps the standout cut on an album which emanates quality throughout. A dissonant refrain keeps the band grounded and gives a distinctive melodic way-mark to return to as the band explores the airwaves over 10 minutes. Farrah’s compositional style is distinctively off-kilter without ever taking things to the point of a-tonality. ‘First Impressions’ retains a keen sense of melody throughout its 35 minute runtime, despite a dark tonal landscape which strays as far from traditional bop as possible without entirely detaching itself. With a subtle undercurrent of funk added into the mix through the tight grooves of the rhythm section, ‘First Impressions’ is an experimental Jazz record that has aged excellently. It’s fresh even in 2018 and is an album more than deserving of its long-held status as an object of desire for collectors. With original copies changing hands for anywhere from £250 to £400, this Pure Pleasure Analogue reissue provides an excellent opportunity to secure the album at a price far from eye-watering.
Alongside genres such as psychedelia and reggae, jazz tends to attract the kind of fervent, discerning collectors who settle for nothing less than the best. While cheaper bootleg labels rarely seem to observe this fact, there’s been a significant upsurge in legitimate, above-board reissue labels over this last decade or so. Pure Pleasure Analogue are one such label; they’ve established themselves as one of the best audiophile labels in the UK thanks in no small part to the attention to detail they put into their pressings. Pressed by Germany’s reliably brilliant Pallas, this reissue sounds superb; the pressing itself is scrupulously clean and mastering is just as impressive. The noise floor is practically inaudible even during the run-ins, and playback is also very clean across both sides. Our copy is free of even a single pop or click, and playback is by and large perfect. While there are a tiny handful of background crackles here and there, these are buried far enough into the mix to be just barely audible and this is still comfortably one of the best modern pressings we’ve heard in a long time. The album itself has been given the audiophile remastering treat and – oh boy – does it pay off. The sonics here are absolutely immaculate, with flawless fidelity throughout and fantastic clarity and precision. The bass is imbued with a wonderfully lifelike, realistic tone and the drums are just as impressively recorded and mastered, with every hit of that sizzling ride cymbal ringing loud and clear. Each instrument occupies its own space in the overall soundscape, and the remastering on this reissue does a very impressive job of ensuring that that’s where they stay; there is very little to no overlap or muddying of instrumentation, leading to a soundscape which feels precise and impressively authentic.
This is a well packaged and attractively presented reissue. Print quality is particularly sharp here, and the album art is authentically reproduced on both the front and back covers. The original copyright dates and label information remain intact, essentially meaning that there’s little (if anything) to separate the sleeve on this reissue from that of an original pressing – which is of course a major plus. It’s clear that plenty of consideration has gone into the best possible presentation of the reissue, as the barcode appears as a sticker on the shrinkwrap, rather than being printed straight onto the sleeve. Further evidence of Pure Pleasure Analogue’s commitment to reproducing the original issue lies in the labels, which are thoroughly authentic reproductions of the striking monochrome Strata-East label design. It’s full marks for a faithful facsimile of the original pressing, then, but how about the packaging itself? Well, the sleeve is solidly constructed and non-gatefold (as per the original); the card stock used is not quite as formidably heavyweight as some comparable jazz reissues we’ve seen recently, but it’s still good quality and well constructed. The record itself is sleeved in a high quality polylined inner, which earns major brownie-points from us. Too many reissue labels (even ones pertaining to audiophile-grade quality) issue their albums in paper sleeve that have the potential to leave marks on the records, so it’s refreshing to a see a label avoid that particular pitfall. A full colour advertising inner for the rest of the Pure Pleasure Analogue catalogue is also included.
Shamek Farrah’s ‘First Impressions’ is an essential piece of mid ’70s soul-jazz. It’s imaginative, well performed and – most importantly – quite mesmerising. This Pure Pleasure Analogue reissue is a fantastic way to hear the album; the pressing is brilliant and the presentation ensures that this will very easily please those collectors not willing or able to shell out the small fortune needed for an original pressing.