Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Pictures at an Exhibition

Ray Bryant
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artists: Roy Ayres; Ray Bryant; Al Cohn and Zoot Sims; Hank Crawford; Rahsaan Roland Kirk; Charles Lloyd; Pat Martino; Les McCann; David “Fathead” Newman; Woody Shaw; Sonny Stitt
Albums: Stoned Soul Picnic (Ayers); Somewhere in France (Bryant); “Live” at the Left Bank (Cohn/Sims); Memphis, Ray and a Touch of Moody (Crawford); Left Hook, Right Cross (Kirk); A Standing Eight (Kirk); Just Before Sunrise (Lloyd); Givin’ Away the Store (Martino, Shaw, Stitt); How’s Your Mother? (McCann); It’s Mister Fathead (Newman); Little Red’s Fantasy (Shaw); Just in Case You Forgot How Bad He Really Was (Stitt)
Source: Promos

Before I started working at an art school, I didn’t really know what a curator does. I’d been to plenty of museums and art galleries, and just sort of assumed that the artist makes the art, and then it gets shown. (It’s sort of like assuming that a musician writes a song, or a writer writes a book, and then…well, the album or published novel just sort of happens.)

In reality, the curator stands as the first line of defense between the artist and the public, applying a trained eye and a sort of developed taste to an exhibition, trying to ensure that the art of the walls makes some kind of sense. The curator can seek to elicit a certain reaction, communicate a particular point, educate, or just make the artist look his/her best.

Joel Dorn is a kind of musical curator. A producer of jazz, pop and R&B records in the 60s and 70s, he worked with everyone from Mingus to Midler, Roberta Flack to Cannonball Adderley. If anyone could be said to have the education and taste that are the curator’s calling card, it’s Dorn.

He was also a Philly guy, which meant when he started up his reissue label, 32 Jazz, I got assigned to interview him. For 32 Jazz, Dorn bought up a boatload of deleted titles from Atlantic’s immense 60s/70s back catalogue and began thoughtfully reintroducing them to the CD age. Each disc came in a distinct plastic jewel case, had all the original art and notes, plus a personal reflection from Dorn about the artist and the music within. Each note ended with an entreaty to “Keep a light in the window,” and a clear directive to enjoy what you were about to hear. He sent me a pile of promos before the interview, and kept me on his mailing list for quite a while after.

The stuff on 32J (and its successor, Label M) cut a wide swath through the famous (Ayers, Kirk), the semi-famous (Cohn & Sims), the semi-forgotten (Stitt, Martino) and some guys more or less lost to history (Bryant, Shaw). But as a curator, Dorn earns your trust with each disc – through a variety of styles and approaches, each disc Dorn rebirthed had something serious to recommend it. Bryant’s solo piano disc, Somewhere in France, is a small marvel; it’s easy to forget there’s not a full band playing as Ray tears through a program of standards and a couple originals. The double-disc sets from Crawford and Fathead (each plays on the other’s albums) make a solid case that they were as integral to Ray Charles’ sound as Brother Ray himself. And Sonny Stitt…he just cooks, playing Bird-ish jazz like he thought of it all on his own.

There’s also the small matter of the sidemen. Check through the notes on these discs, and there’s a parade of familiar names who were hired for the sessions. Ayres has Charles Tolliver, Gary Bartz and Ron Carter on Stoned Soul Picnic; Lloyd’s got Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette backing him up; Booby Hutcherson, Cedar Walton, Jimmy Cobb, Billy Higgins, Anthony Braxton, Paul Chambers, Kenny Garrett, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Joey Baron and Marc Johnson all show up on tracks peppered among the other discs. It’s a treat to hear major guys playing inside someone else’s context, bringing the level way up while also subsuming themselves to the task at hand.

In this museum of jazz’s cutout past, Dorn is a meticulous and big-hearted curator, framing every lesser light in a way that makes him look like a prime Picasso. It’s a gift to be able to do what Dorn’s done here, and it’s a gift he gives to every listener who picks up one of his discs.

SISOSIG? There’s a big ol’ stack of discs on my desk right now, and they’re all keepers, every one. I don’t listen to some (like Kirk and Shaw) as much as others (Bryant, Martino, McCann), but I enjoy all of these. Like a masterwork on the walls of the Met, there’s probably more to see (or in this case, hear) over time, and all of these discs belong in the collection.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home