The career of pianist Omar Sharriff demonstrates that talent and originality does not necessarily result in success. One of the most distinctive blues pianists, an evocative vocalist, and a songwriter whose lyrics capture the bittersweet reality of modern urban life, it may be Sharriff’s refusal to compromise his beliefs, or the rawness of his blues, that led to his relative lack of recordings, or commercial success in music. Black Widow Spider, his 1994 release on the Have Mercy label mixed striking versions of classic blues with powerful originals. Fingers of Fate is a splendid piano boogie, while Seven Years of Torture depicts his years living in Clovis, a town full of rednecks and fruit growers, and a very bad romance. In contrast, Fire of Fury features his rap with a forceful commentary on the Rodney King beating and the Los Angeles riots. He personalizes Ray Charles’ Greenbacks, and the Joe Williams-Count Basie classic recording Smack Dab in the Middle, reworked almost like Don’t Start Me To Talkin’ with harp. His choice of covers shows him not bound by categories but his version of All Across the Watchtower is spoiled by messy blues-rock guitar. Sharriff is a fascinating pianist who mixes jazz, gospel and other idioms with the blues. Saxophonist Steve Ghundi is a first rate player whose accompaniments and solos are thoughtful, and responsive to Sharriff’s lead. This was an important album by an major, under recorded artist. I checked and the Have Mercy website lists this as available. It would be worth checking the website for order info.
This is revised version of the review from October 1994 Jazz & Blues Report.