Back in 2011, I reviewed a CD that contained the first two albums by the Contemporary Jazz Quintet, a Detroit ensemble led by keyboardist Kenny Cox (but extremely democratic in nature) that also featured trumpeter Charles Moore, tenor saxophonist Leon Henderson, bassist Ron Brooks, and drummer Danny Spencer. I felt like those two albums, Introducing… and Multidirection, released on Blue Note in 1969 and 1970 respectively, sounded like a bunch of Detroit dudes playing music that had already been done several years earlier in New York. Well, it turns out the Contemporary Jazz Quintet kept going after their short tenure on Blue Note; Cox founded the Strata label, and a third studio recording, Location, was released on Strata in 1973. (He also recorded an album under his own name, Clap Clap! The Joyful Noise, in 1975.)

Location is a much different album from either of its predecessors. First of all, though they were still billing themselves as the Contemporary Jazz Quintet, there were eight musicians present on the date: the original five, plus guitarist Ron English, second keyboardist Charles Eubanks and second percussionist Bud Spangler. Leon Henderson had added soprano saxophone to his arsenal, too. The album contains five tracks, four of which last between seven and 13 minutes; the other is a two-minute trumpet-bass-drums interlude, “Noh Word.” When the full ensemble is working, as on the 11-minute “Tao,” the music is a swirling, churning space-jazz blend, somewhere between what Miles Davis‘s band had laid down at Washington, DC’s Cellar Door club in 1970 — as heard on 1971’s Live-Evil and then, many years later, on a six-CD box set — and Idris Muhammad‘s “Loran’s Dance,” from 1974’s Power Of Soul. Moore and Henderson have abandoned the unison horn melodies of their earlier work; this isn’t free jazz, but it’s “every man for himself” jazz, crashing and splashing along in an often harsh and headlong manner.

A previously unknown live recording of the group, from the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, presumably in 1972 or 1973, has just been released as The Black Hole. On this occasion, the group seems to have been a tentet: as the recording begins, festival organizer John Sinclair rattles off the names of Moore on trumpet and flugelhorn, Marcus Townsend on sax, Cox, Eubanks and Phil Mendelson on keyboards, English on guitar, Brooks on bass, Adam Rudolph on percussion, and both Spangler and Spencer on drums. Following that introduction, the band plays four untitled tracks ranging in length from 12 to nearly 19 minutes. The first of these is a monster blues jam, with the double drummers, Brooks and Rudolph maintaining a massive, stomping groove as the horns, guitar and keyboards take turns spinning out long solos of frequently teeth-grinding intensity; at one point, it’s hard to tell whether you’re hearing a keyboard, or a horn fed through some kind of ungodly distortion device.

The other three tracks are even noisier and more unfettered, but they’re easier to file alongside the music Miles Davis was making a couple of years earlier, with his own electric bands of 1969 and 1970. That said, the avalanche of rhythm goes a long way toward giving this music its own identity; English takes a particularly fierce, nasty solo on the fourth and final track, with the two drummers going absolutely berserk behind him. (Weirdly, as the performance ends, Sinclair appears again, and this time announces only six musicians. Listen, and figure it out for yourself.)

If you’re a fan of screaming electric jazz-rock of this era, you should absolutely hear both Location and The Black Hole. The rough, distorted sound of the latter is also, strangely, an argument in its favor; it’s not a bootleg, but it has a frayed, blown-out quality that adds a little bit of extra intensity. Music like this can’t be too clean — it has to have the rawness it would have had on the night in question, and The Black Hole certainly does.

Phil Freeman


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