The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, or CJQ, can be seen as the cornerstone of the entire Strata enterprise. Led by Kenny Cox, the Quintet featured saxophonist Leon Henderson (brother of saxophone legend Joe Henderson), future Strata mainstays Charles Moore and bassist Ron Brooks, and drummer Danny Spencer.
In the late ’60s, the CJQ cut two records in quick succession for Blue Note, Introducing Kenny Cox and Multidirection, both triumphs for Detroit’s progressive jazz community. But these records were not necessarily triumphs for Blue Note, the label growing nervous about the group’s growing disregard for musical boundaries. “I’ve always surmised that Strata grew out of the CJQ’s disappointing experience with Blue Note Records and the general hopelessness of the surviving jazz scene,” reflects John Sinclair. These sentiments initiated a new era for the CJQ. They went on to release their own records, and even break the logistical shackles of the Quintet, featuring nine players on their Strata Records debut, Location.
In order for the CJQ to be successful, Detroit needed an infrastructure that could sustain and support an experimental jazz scene. “They needed a place [to play], because what they were doing—original music—was a little esoteric for a mainstream audience at that time,” says Sinclair. As a result, they established their first cooperative space in 1970—a gallery/coffee shop on Michigan Avenue—where people of all ages could come and see a rising crop of local musicians, as well as national jazz visionaries like Archie Shepp.
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