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Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


After far too many years of sitting on the shelf in the vaults of Blue Note records, Detroit pianist Kenn Cox's recordings for the label have finally, and thankfully, been reissued on CD as Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Introducing (recorded 1968) and Multi-Direction (1969) have long thought to be pivot points in the development of modern jazz in the Motor City.

Furthermore, they have always been regarded not only as a focal point for what was happening in the movement at the time, but served notice to the modern jazz movements that would subsequently be proffered in the early 1970s, before the local scene took a tumble, spiritually and musically.

At a time when the music scene was waning, Cox and his Contemporary Jazz Quintet, gave it an artistic boost, and brought it into an arena where funk, and eventually disco, ruled the roost in the black community. What CJQ did was not necessarily a foreshadow of that era, for the music was already starting to turn in a more R&B-flavored direction, with the establishing of jazz-rock fusion and consequently the over-produced CTI sound to follow.

Instead Cox and his band took the sound of the mid-60s acoustic Miles Davis and electric Bitches Brew period to follow, transforming it into their own personal vehicle with the unique musical voices of the band members that signified it as a purely Detroit thing. It was a style that, with the help of fellow Detroiters Marcus Belgrave, Harold McKinney, Roy Brooks, Wendell Harrison, Ron English, Phil Ranelin and other members of the Tribe collective, would be recognized around the world as a unique entity unto itself.

2008 SEMJA Award To Kenny Cox

SEMJA's Ron Brooks Award will this year go to Kenny Cox, a Detroit pianist and educator of long standing. We will celebrate the award at Baker's Keyboard Lounge on Sunday, March 16, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. with music by the Kenn Cox Trio, food, and more.

An extensive article on Cox's career will appear in upcoming issues.

In a later configuration, CJQ would become more electric and beat driven, as it changed with the times. But in their initial form, Cox and this quintet made original music that was on the brink of maverick and revolutionary. What you hear on both recordings is a progression of styles that parallel certain inferences establishing hallmarks, not only for the time period, but significant icons of the music that still resonate. It is for that reason that these sessions have become so influential, and remain so today, which is largely why this reissue on CD is not just long overdue, but an event.

Introducing starts with a no-frills hard bopper "Mystique" that is one of five of Cox's originals. That theme is retained in David Durrah's "You," which has those distinctly mid-1960s Miles quintet voicings. Then there's "Trance Dance," the famous soul-jazz groover that has been covered by others, and is approaching standard status. With its cool dynamics, stacatto accents and "Hi-Heel Sneakers" vibe, it's one for the ages.

"Eclipse" follows, a Leon Henderson chart, which sports a more complex melody, a hard bop bridge and Charles Moore's distinctive trumpet playing. Moore's "Number Four" is similar in stance to Herbie Hancock's "Riot," and you hear the rhythm section of Brooks and Spencer urgently pushing and pulling. Henderson's "Diahann" is a pretty, free ballad that is both multi-layered and distinctly multi-directional.

Cox's "Spellbound" kicks off the Multi-Direction part of the program in a dark, moodier hue quite reminiscent of the Davis/Wayne Shorter collaboration Sorcerer. Start/stop speed-ups and slow-downs identify Moore's "Snuck In" with a technique established and perfected by Charles Mingus, followed by Cox's "Sojourn," another memorable composition that needs to be revisited by interpreters, students and educators. It is that journey through wondrous rhythm changes, a very tuneful, edited melody, and the standout drumming of Spencer that sets this music apart. A probing piano underpinning on the title track, penned by Moore, lofts the four others in CJQ to take off into personal space. The dates conclude with Cox's pretty waltz "What Other One?" (Kenn — please revisit this one!) and Moore's "Gravity Point," a piece that personifies the epitome of modern jazz and should be celebrated by everybody.

Currently Leon Henderson, whose late brother Joe became one of the most influential tenor saxophonists of our time, has slipped into quiet obscurity. Moore and Spencer have been in California for sometime — Moore teaming with percussionist Adam Rudolph and saxophonist Ralph "Buzzy" Jones to front the ethnic fusion band Eternal Wind, and they have all collaborated with Yusef Lateef. Spencer has found himself somewhat busy as a sideman, and has made frequent trips back to Michigan, working with Buddy Budson, Ron English, and the late Larry Nozero among others.

Ron Brooks, president emeritus of SEMJA, ran the Bird Of Paradise nightclub in Ann Arbor for two decades. He is heard on occasion at Baker's Keyboard Lounge, the Sidetrack in Ypsilanti, and at local benefit concerts. Since CJQ he was a member of the well-liked Latin jazz outfit Mixed Bag with Nozero, the late Eddie Russ and Jerry Glassel, percussionists David Koether and Lorenzo Brown among others. In his trio he has cultivated burgeoning jazz pianists as Kevin O'Connell, Larry Fuller, Rick Roe, Tad Weed and others.

Of course Cox has been a mainstay of the local scene, has taught on the West Coast, made forays into extensive composition, written an epic jazz mass, has prepared a book of his charts, and leads his JusUs trio regularly at Baker's Keyboard Lounge. Though his local dates with larger ensembles have been infrequent since the days of the Guerilla Jam Band, he does front his band Drum at local festivals.

CJQ would later record for the Strata label. That album, Location, has been hard to find, and is also not yet reissued on CD. A more expanded and electric band, which gave rise to an "infinite Q" concept, paved the way for future groups of progressive mindset. Their memorable performance at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, and a revival ten years later in Ypsilanti's Depot Town, gave final testament to the originality the band offered when they were together. This Blue Note CD with both albums included is a strong statement as to their relevance on the music of today and beyond.


Index of SEMJA reviews

Southeastern Michigan
Jazz Association


is published monthly. 
It is edited by Lars Björn and Piotr Michalowski
with additional assistance from Barton Polot (production editor and Webmaster), Judy Alcock, Margot Campos, Lynn Hobbs, and Marcel Niemiec.


Michael G. Nastos is music reviewer for the All Music Guide, longtime Detroit correspondent for Cadence Magazine, correspondent and Down Beat Critics Poll Voter, and is retired senior staff emeritus music host of WEMU, 89.1-FM.

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