Much like the pop music world has its so called "one hit wonders, jazz has also had those musicians who produced one or two excellent records and then faded into obscurity, only to have their records become collector items decades later. Blue Note Records, more than any other mainstream label, has recorded these talented, but ill-recognized musicians and, to the delight of jazz aficionados, they periodically release these long-lost gems into general circulation. One such artist is Kenny Cox and his group the Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
Their two records have been reissued for the first time on one CD as part of the Blue Note Connoisseur Series as Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet, with excellent liner notes, masterful sound and reproduction of the original artwork from both LPs.
The two records were initially released in 1968 and 1969, and bear the sign of the times, though that's not to suggest that they are dated in any way. It's quickly apparent that Cox is not only the leader in name, but the driving force behind the group and its principal composer, contributing five tracks and arranging one by his friend, pianist David Durrah. He has his own sound, but the stylistic influences of Bud Powell and fellow Detroiter Hank Jones are clearly apparent. His solos are very unpredictable and melodic at the same time, making them the most enjoyable of all the soloists on these two sessions.
Overall the music is soul-jazz with an edgea bit more forward-looking than the standard soul-jazz dates of the time with occasional, albeit timid, overtures to freer realms. The other stand-out musician on these sessions and the "second in command is trumpeter Charles Moore who contributes four compositions. He also has a unique sound but bears the unmistakable influence of Miles Davis. He and tenor saxophonist Leon Henderson (Joe Henderson's brother) play well off each other, although Moore definitely dominates these musical conversations. Henderson, who contributes two compositions, sounds a bit like Dexter Gordon, had he played soul-jazz and R&B. The bass and drums provide sympathetic support and rare but brilliant solos.
The first session, originally released as Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet (1968), is the more accomplished of the two with its tight arrangements, catchy melodies and creative solos. The second session, released as Multidirection (1969), is looser in its arrangements and less creative in its compositions and improvisations. Compared to the earlier session it feels more like a collection of sketches and studies that are never fully realized.
Regardless of these faults Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet is a great reissue and a timely introduction to a long-overlooked group of very talented musicians. One can only hope that more sessions by unjustly obscure musicians like Fred Jackson will soon be reissued.