The weather over the past few weeks has finally brought us much-needed rain … and led me back to one of my favorite albums, “Jazz for A Rainy Afternoon.”
Blame it on an overriding desire for historical and creative context, but generally speaking I’m no fan of multi-artist jazz CDs. Whether intended to collect a label’s greatest hits or preview its latest releases, collect disparate holiday tunes or skim tracks from otherwise admirable box sets, such compilations lack aesthetic cohesion and just leave me cold. The absolute nadir of the genre is the supposedly mood-setting collection; “Jazz to Lay Brick By” and the like. I won’t have them in the house.
An exception is made, however, when it comes to the 32Jazz compilation series launched in the late ‘90s. That is, the “Jazz for …” discs.
I first encountered the label and series through “Jazz for A Rainy Afternoon” (1998). The album serves as a fitting introduction, featuring as it does a just-this-side of tawdry cover (good-looking woman, sexily dressed, walking – oddly enough – in the rain), cheap black plastic packaging and decidedly no-frills typography. The producers, clearly, spared every expense.
The music inside, however, more than compensates. Drawing from the Muse and Landmark labels as well as the occasional Atlantic release, “Rainy Afternoon” kicks off with Charles Brown’s solo evocative “’Round Midnight” and goes on to showcase the likes of Houston Person, Ron Carter, David “Fathead” Newman, Hank Jones and Sonny Criss – all estimable jazz talents whose work does not receive the attention it deserves.
As compilations go, “Rainy Afternoon” works on a couple of levels. First, it’s certainly packed with excellent jazz and has the potential to introduce even veteran fans to artists they’ve heard of but perhaps never heard. Second, the whole mood-theme conceit eases the way for the jazz novice.
Amazon lists more than a dozen albums in the “Jazz for …” series including “The Quiet Times” (1998), “The Open Road” (1998), “When You’re In Love” (2000), “A Summer Night” (2003), even “A Coffee Break” (2005). Some have been expanded to or were originally released as two-disc collections. Whether a particular album truly sets its titular mood is up to you. There is no debating the quality of music.
Credit that to 32Jazz impresario Joel Dorn, who founded the label in the mid-‘90s. Dorn cut quite a swath through the music industry in the 1960s and ‘70s, primarily at Atlantic Records, where he produced hundreds of jazz, pop and soul albums. By the late ‘80s, he had launched Night Records and released live collections from the likes of Cannonball Adderley and Eddie Harris. He then became a consultant to Rhino, GRP and Columbia, all of whom were reissuing their catalogs on CD. In total, Dorn released more than 250 albums on 32Jazz before his death in 2007.
That said, it seems the “Jazz for …” series held a special place in his heart. The 1998 discs included a personal, somewhat self-deprecating note from Dorn, each of which closed with the admonition “Keep a light in the window.”
Clearly, that’s what he intended the series to do for jazz and the timeless artists featured.
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