Various ‘DJ Amir presents Strata Records: The Sound of Detroit Volume 1’ (BBE Music/180 Proof) 4/5

With full access to the wealth of music within the Strata label archives, DJ Amir has pieced together a superb collection that highlights the incredible music which came through the Detroit based label during the 1970s. With a catalogue of music ready in waiting the label folded after only 6 releases, leaving some great albums and individual recordings left behind. In 2008 DJ Amir, as part of Wax Poetics, reissued Lyman Woodard Organization’s album ‘Saturday Night Special’; Strata’s most successful release. Fast forward 5 years and DJ Amir had placed the wheels in motion for his own reissue label, ‘180 Proof’. The beginning mission of ‘180 Proof’ was to illuminate the music that had been collecting dust in the Strata Records archives and document the cultural movement surrounding the label.‘The Sound Of Detroit’ volume 1 captures a rounded perspective of the label and its vision featuring 23 tracks from the community-spirited Strata catalogue, courtesy of BBE Music.

The collection gives a great opportunity to explore some of the highlights and more mysterious tracks that DJ Amir found such as the unknown artist who recorded ‘Time Is Wasting’ Or the lost concert by Charlie Mingus. It’s a varied selection with soulful vocal cuts, jazz and Latin and a definite sense of time and place. Kenny Cox’s vision continues to leave a lasting legacy that resonates with an authentic soulful identity; another important jazz full of soul Detroit label.

In the 1990’s DJ Amir joined Fat Beats: New York’s best independent centred hip hop record shop and distribution company, The shop created a central place for many of the underground artists in New York and across the States, focusing on independent labels such as Stones Throw, ABB, Fondle Em, Rawkus and many other lesser-known non-commercial labels. In 1997 Kon & Amir’s ‘On Track’ cut up/dj mix series began with snippets of an extraordinary amount of rare funk, soul, afro, Latin and jazz tracks, all wrapped with the duo’s particular style and taste. After the Wax Poetics reissue of ‘Saturday Night’, DJ Amir reissued Kenny Cox’s album ‘Clap Clap! The Joyful Noise’; the first release on his 180 Proof reissue label.

Kenny Cox’s ultimate music experience came with the Contemporary Jazz Quintet alongside fellow musicians Leon Henderson, Charles Moore, Danny Spencer and Ron Brooks. Amongst the many other archive finds, Amir’s reissue label ‘180 Proof’ restored and reissued the legendary live concert titled ‘The Black Hole’ in 2020. This compilation features ‘Noh Word’, a track taken from the quintet’s 1973 album ‘Location’, the subsequent album to their two Blue Note ventures in 1968 and 1970. Amongst countless other pianists, Horace Silver, Hampton Hawes and Tommy Flanagan were important early influences for Kenny Cox. During his career he had played alongside Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eddie Harris, Jackie McLean, Roy Haynes, Ben Webster, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Dorham, Philly Joe Jones, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Roy Brooks, Charles McPherson, Curtis Fuller and many other jazz luminaries before setting up the Detroit based Strata label.

This summer 2021 a project is underway that will see the Jazzanova collective reimagine some highlights from the Strata label in collaboration with DJ Amir, which will no doubt be something extra special.

Tracks on ‘The Sound Of Detroit’ volume 1 vary in style, all with a depth and meaning that runs through the music. Mixed Bag recorded one album for Tribe in 1976 with the classic ‘La Margarita’ track. Here they offer two rare cuts in the vocal rendition of the popular ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘All But Blind’. Vocalist Ursula Walker had worked alongside James Tatum on his 1974 ‘Contemporary Jazz Mass’ album and featured on Kenny Cox’s ‘Clap Clap! The Joyful Noise’ album. Her previously unreleased version of the well-known composition ‘Maiden Voyage’ carries a spacious explorative quality with an almost demo feel; another welcome discovery.

The Charles Moore and Kenny Cox produced Soulmates track is a great upbeat Detroit soul number that was another lost gem that thankfully came out as a single in 2014 on 180 Proof and airs a Northern soul spirit. The Cuban vocalist/musician Fito Foster featured on DJ Amir’s 2016 compilation ‘Buena Musica Y Cultura’ with two tracks recorded for Strata but never released. Here ‘Salsa pt 1’ adds a Latin element to the mix which further brings a welcome variety. One of the biggest finds is the long lost ‘Jazz In Detroit’ album by Charlie Mingus, and here, two tracks feature with both ‘Dizzy Profile’ and the 25 minute ‘Pithecanthropus Erectus’.

Volume 1 of ‘The Sound Of Detroit’ is another excellent documentation of a particular place, time and sound, with both BBE and DJ Amir, adding a real depth to the story. Check the sleeve notes.

Mark Jones