Joe Farrell – unsung hero?

joe farrellJoe Farrell should be much better known, but his fate was to be best known for a short string of CTI records in the 1970s. Let me explain… The decade of jazz-rock has not been kind to some artists who grew their hair, dabbled with electronics or solo pyrotechnics and who adopted overindulgent production values. Of course, there are those whose musical language was enhanced by by the era – Joe Zawinul and Miles Davis for example. Their polar opposite approaches to the changing musical landscape proved of lasting value and influence to jazz – and beyond.

Joe Farrell came straight out of the jazz tradition: apprenticeships with Maynard Ferguson and Charlie Mingus led in 1968 to a place in Elvin Jones’ regular band, latterly as part of a three horn line up with Dave Liebman and Frank Foster. Farrell recorded several under-rated albums with Jones but greater recognition came with his tenure in a first incarnation of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever andjoe farrell quartet his CTI solo albums, beginning with Joe Farrell Quartet in 1970 which features a definitive version of John McLaughlin’s Follow Your Heart. To some extent these solo records were overshadowed by Farrell’s sidesman work with other CTI artists – Airto Moreira, Ray Barreto, Lalo Schifrin and George Benson but each of them features Farrell’s powerful and imaginative soloing on tenor and soprano saxes together with flute and even oboe too.

airto_free1Drug addiction and finally bone cancer led to his early death in 1986 at the age of 48 but not before he’d cemented his reputation with recordings for jazz supergroup Fuse One, more Chick Corea, Billy Cobham’s excellent first solo album Spectrum and session outings with Aretha Franklin, Patti Austin, Hall and Oates and many others. His final recording was back with Airto and his wife Flora Purim on the album Three Way Mirror.

I’ve not come across a Farrell solo that isn’t of interest – nothing was ever perfunctory or sounds phoned in. Even on his mainstream CTI albums there are tracks that feature harder edges, squeaks and squalls unexpected in this catalogue.

Selected discography:

  • 1966: Chick Corea – Tones for Joan’s Bones (Blue Note)
  • 1969: Elvin Jones – Poly-currents (Blue Note)
  • 1970: Joe Farrell Quartet (CTI)
  • 1971: Outback (CTI)
  • 1972: Chick Corea – Return to Forever (Verve)
  • 1972: Airto Moreira – Free (CTI)
  • 1972: Moon Germs (CTI)
  • 1973: Penny Arcade (CTI)
  • 1973: Don Sebesky – Giant Box (1973)
  • 1973: Billy Cobham – Spectrum (Atlantic)
  • 1974: Upon This Rock (CTI)
  • 1976: Maynard Ferguson – Primal Scream (CBS)
  • 1979: Ray Barretto – La Cuna (CTI)
  • 1980: Fuse One (CTI)

And here’s Joe Farrell in 1968 with Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5MJ4o9teNs

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