CULT CLASSIC: THE CONTEMPORARY JAZZ QUINTET-LOCATION.
Cult Classic: The Contemporary Jazz Quintet-Location.
Many record buyers have a wish-list of albums that are their holy grail, and which they spend a lifetime searching for, in the hope that they can add these elusive albums to their lovingly curated collection that they’ve built up over several decades. For many fans of jazz music, their holy grail are the six albums released by the short-lived Detroit-based Strata Records which was founded in 1969 by jazz pianist and composer Kenny Cox who led The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
Four years after founding Strata Records, Kenny Cox’s nascent label released its first release which was The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s third album Location 1973, and followed in the footsteps of Bert Myrick’s Live ’N’ Well and Lyman Woodard’s cult classic Saturday Night Special. Location marked a new chapter in the story of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet whose roots can be traced back to the late-sixties.
That was when Detroit-based DJ Jack Springer told jazz pianist and producer Duke Pearson about Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, who had been together less than a year, but were already a popular draw in Motor City where they were regarded as one of the top up-and-coming jazz bands. Not long after this, Duke Pearson was heading to Detroit where he was about to record Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. He was determined to steal a march on the competition, and be the first person to record Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
When Duke Pearson arrived in Detroit, he discovered that Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet had never recorded a session before. This didn’t worry Duke Pearson who realised that Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet were talented and potentially, had a bright future.
They were led by pianist Kenny Cox, a graduate of the Detroit Conservatory Of Music who was joined in the rhythm section by drummer Danny Spencer and bassist Ron Brooks. Completing the lineup was trumpeter Charles Moore and tenor saxophonist Leon Henderson, who was the brother of Joe Henderson. However, soon, Duke Pearson discovered that the Quintet weren’t just talented musicians.
Duke Pearson discovered that some of the material they were about to record had been written by Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Much of the material Duke Pearson recorded would eventually feature on Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s debut album.
Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
Having discovered Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, they signed to Blue Note Records in 1968, which was one of jazz’s leading labels and home to the most talented musicians and bands. Talent certainly was something that Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet weren’t lacking as they arrived to record their debut album with producer Duke Pearson and recordist Rudy Van Gender on the ‘12th’ of July 1968.
Just five months later, Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet was released on December the ‘9th 1968. It was a carefully crafted album of muscular urban post bop that seemed to have been inspired by Miles Davis Quintet of the late to mid-sixties. Many within Blue Note Records had high hopes for Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, including Leonard Feather who wrote the sleeve-notes. He said: “I predict a bright and momentous future for this latest in a long line of Blue Note discoveries.”
Sadly, Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, wasn’t the success that Blue Note Records had hoped. Despite that, Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet headed into the studio in 1969 to record their sophomore album, Multidirection.
This time, Francis Wolff the cofounder of Blue Note Records took charge of production at GM Recording Studios-East, in Detroit, on November the ’26th 1969 as Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet recorded six new compositions. By then, Kenny Cox and Charles Moore had emerged as the Quintet’s songwriters-in-chief and each contributed three compositions. They became Multidirection, which was released in 1970.
While Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s sophomore album Multidirection was released, it was another album of post bop, and was well received by the critics that reviewed the album. However, by 1970 jazz was changing and fusion was now the flavour of the month amongst the jazz cognoscenti. Some critics saw post bop as yesterday’s sound. Sadly, so it seemed did record buyers, and Multidirection failed to find the audience that it deserved. For Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet this was a huge disappointment.
Especially when Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet realised that Multidirection was the last album that they would release for Blue Note Records. Their contract was up, and wasn’t renewed, which left the Quintet without a record label. Or did it?
Fortunately, Kenny Cox had already founded his own record label Strata Records a year earlier in 1969. Strata Records was based in Detroit, which was home to Kenny Cox and the rest of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Detroit was also where Kenny Cox planned to build Strata Records’ new recording studio.
He had earmarked 46 Selden in Detroit as the site of Strata Sound Studios, which would also be the headquarters of Strata Records and would also be used to host concerts. This new facility Kenny Cox hoped would be used by the local community, but was also where the artists who signed to new label Strata Records would record their albums.
With his new label up-and-running, Kenny Cox was keen to sign some artists to Strata Records’ roster. This included The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, as they were now billed. Gone were the days when they were known as Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. The Strata Records’ years would be a new start for The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
Having signed to a new label and became The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, work began on the followup to Multidirection. Eventually, five new compositions had been written, including the first by the members of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, Bang! It was joined by Kenny Cox’s Tao, Dan Spencer’s Inner Beckoning and Noh Word and Nguzo Saba (Struggle) which were written by Charles Moore. These tracks were recorded in Detroit by The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
Unfortunately, Kenny Cox’s Strata Sound Studios wasn’t up and running by the time The Contemporary Jazz Quintet began recording Location. It was recorded by a slightly different lineup of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
For the recording of Location, The Contemporary Jazz Quintet used two drummers and percussionists including Dan Spencer who had played on the first two albums, and producer Bud Spangler. They were joined in the rhythm section by bassist Rob Brooks, guitarist Ron English and pianist Kenny Cox who like Charles Eubanks also played Fender Rhodes. Leon Henderson switched between tenor and soprano saxophone, while trumpeter Charles Moore also played flugelhorn and percussion. In total, it took nine musicians to record The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s third album Location.
Once Location was complete, The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s third album became the first release on Kenny Cox’s Strata Records. Alas, when Location was released in 1973, it failed to find the audience this underrated and oft-overlooked album deserved. Sadly, it was a familiar story with small independent labels, with Strata lacking the financial muscle and expertise to promote Location. This was a huge disappointment for The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
No wonder, as Location is an album that if it had been released on a bigger label, could’ve transformed the fortunes of the new lineup of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Location opens with Bang! which is very different to Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Gone are the similarities with Miles Davis Quintet from mid to late-sixties as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet play with a newfound freedom and inventiveness as they embrace free jazz which they fuse with elements of post bop in during this explosive album opener.
The tempo drops on Tao, where a lone horn plays, and takes centre-stage before this eleven minute epic gradually reveals its secrets. Space is left within the arrangement while Ron English’s guitar adds to the mesmeric sound as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet continue to play with freedom and inventiveness as their music heads in a new direction. All the time, sounds assail the listener as the music becomes dramatic, hypnotic, but melodic and uplifting as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet shake off the shackles of their musical past and enjoy their playing with their newfound freedom during this musical awakening.
Slow, spacious and thoughtful and almost dreamy describes Noh Word, which meanders along as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet continue to reinvent themselves during this beautiful track.
Horns and Fender Rhodes unite and play with speed and urgency on Nguzo Saba (Struggle) before the drums enter. They’re pounded and played with the same urgency before just the Fender Rhodes remains, and takes centre-stage. Soon, the cymbals and drums are being pounded, but don’t overpower the Fender Rhodes, before a horn is played with speed, power, passion and control. Before long, the rest of the Quintet is playing their part during this impressive and innovative genre-meting jam.
Inner Beckoning which closes Location is a thirteen minute epic, which initially has a ruminative and reflective sound, but later, there’s a restlessness which was the case in Detroit in 1973 when Location was released. By then, Motown had headed to LA, inflation was high, interest rates rising and unemployment was starting to rise as the recession hit the motor industry. Later, restlessness gives way urgency as if The Contemporary Jazz Quintet realise that things have to change not just in Detroit, but across America
After the release of Location in 1973, the album disappeared with trace and the only people who discovered the delights of this underrated and oft-overlooked hidden jazz gem were record buyers who found a copy in the racks of second-hand record stores. However, that wasn’t the end of Kenny Cox’s Strata Records.
In 1974, Bert Myrick’s album Live ’N Well was released on Strata Records, and despite the quality of music, failed to find an audience. This was what had happened to The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s album Location a year earlier. Lightning had struck twice for Kenny Cox’s Strata Records.
Despite what he hoped were teething problems for Strata Records, Kenny Cox’s label continued to release ambitious, exciting and groundbreaking albums. Detroit jazz collective Sphere’s debut album Inside Ourselves was released later in 1974, but sales very few copies of this innovative album were sold. It was a similar case when Maulawi released their eponymous debut album in late 1974. Although it was only Strata Records fourth release, none of the albums had been a commercial success.
As 1975 dawned, Strata Records made plans for their next release, which was The Lyman Woodard Organisations’ debut album Saturday Night Special. Funky and soulful, it was an album that should’ve found a much wider audience. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and after five albums time was already running out for Strata Records.
When Larry Nozero’s Time which featured Dennis Tini was released later in 1975, it was another ambitious album that veered between jazz-funk to soul-jazz and contemporary jazz. However, when Time failed commercially, it was the end of the road for Strata Records, and Kenny Cox’s label closed its doors for the last time in 1975.
Ironically, as the years passed by, there was a resurgence of interest in the six albums released by Strata Records between 1973 and 1975. By then, the albums were incredibly rare, and for those that tried to collect the six albums, this was almost impossible and original copies of Bert Myrick’s Live ’N’ Well, Lyman Woodard’s Saturday Night Special and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s Location third album Location continue to elude collectors. Location is an oft-overlooked and underrated album that Kenny Cox’s Strata Records released in 1973.
Location is the album that marked the reinvention of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. They switch between and fuse elements of free jazz, hard bop and post bop on Location which was an ambitious and innovative album which should’ve found a wider audience. Sadly, commercial success eluded Location, which was the final album from The Contemporary Jazz Quintet who nowadays, are regarded as one of American jazz’s best kept secrets.
Cult Classic: The Contemporary Jazz Quintet-Location.