The Unheralded Music of Detroit’s Strata Records

“In the late 1960s, Detroit was a simmering cauldron of frustration and righteous outrage. As Detroit’s famed auto industry hemorrhaged jobs, threatening the economic lifeblood of the Black working class, the response to police brutality and racism grew increasingly militant. On the morning of Sunday, July 23, 1967, Detroit police raided an after-hours party for returning Vietnam veterans and arrested over eighty party attendees. A crowd gathered around the disturbance, a bottle was thrown, and the violent uprising now known as the Detroit Rebellion began. One year later, in the spring of 1968, more riots would erupt in Detroit in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. These uprisings, coupled with the growing surge of radicalism sweeping the nation as the Civil Rights movement gave way to the Black Power movement, ensured that Black life in Detroit would never be the same. In 1969, the League Of Revolutionary Black Workers (a Marxist-Leninist federation of Black trade union organizations) was formed in the wake of several autonomous wildcat strikes protesting racism and mistreatment throughout Detroit’s automobile plants. Black nationalist organizations like the Nation Of Islam and the Republic Of New Afrika organized in the Black community alongside leftist organizations like the Black Panther Party. Detroit’s Black community fought back against brutal police repression and struggled under the weight of a sharp economic downturn. Even the optimistic glow of Motown’s ecstatic Black pop romanticism was fading and within three years the company would relocate to Los Angeles. It was against this dynamic and volatile socio-political backdrop that Detroit-born composer and pianist Kenny Cox founded Strata Records in 1969. An emerging pianist with an imaginative playing style and tasteful compositions, Cox had played with the likes of Jackie McLean, Philly Joe Jones, Rahsaan Rolan Kirk, and Wes Montgomery. Cox also gained some notoriety playing with his own group, the Contemporary Jazz Quintet. One year prior, the ensemble cut an album for the legendary Blue Note label.  With acts like the Lyman Woodard Organization, Maulawi, saxophonist Sam Sanders, and others, Strata would be home to some of Detroit’s finest musicians. During the label’s short, half-decade existence it built a roster whose sound encompassed soul, Latin, fusion, post-bop and more. After Strata ceased operations in 1975, the majority of the label’s recorded catalog went unreleased. It wouldn’t be until respected DJ and collector Amir Abdullah began licensing and reissuing selections from the Strata catalog, that this music would be heard by listeners outside of Detroit. …”
Bandcamp (Audio)
STRATA: A Detroit Movement Defined by John Sinclair
The Archivist: “Motown were a Mafioso in Detroit” – The story of Strata Records with Amir Abdullah (Audio)
PBS: Detroit Jazz City (Video) 29:31
MixCloud: Hedonist Jazz – Strata Records, Detroit (Audio) 59:45, Spotify: Strata Records

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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