A look back at jazz, and the lost art of the album cover

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A look back at jazz, and the lost art of the album cover

Portability and desire for better sound quality led most music listeners to convert to CDs in the 1990s. But however close recorded music gets to technical perfection, there is one virtue from the vinyl era that’s lost for good.
Looking through “All That Jazz Cats,” an exhibit of classic jazz album covers at Daelim Museum of Contemporary Art, one could get just as nostalgic about the lost art of LP covers as about the great jazz of the past.
The images on display at Daelim have been deliberately made to look rough and fuzzy, to imitate the quality of the old covers. All works have been enlarged to the size of posters.
The exhibition begins with the cover of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” a milestone in jazz history. The show then moves on to ’40s and ’50s bebop, ’60s bossa nova and free jazz and finally the jazz-rock fusion of the ’70s and ’80s.
The exhibition treats album covers as an authentic art form, conceptualizing the musical style of jazz artists visually. In doing so, the show raises the possiblity that images can reflect sounds.
Indeed, some covers do clearly pick up the essence of a musican or his era, whether by capturing the musician in performance or zooming in on street scenes that reflect the time period in which the music was played.
The show also pays tribute to some of the outstanding photographers who have worked on jazz albums. Included in the exhibit is a special collection of album covers by renowned portrait photographers like Lee Friedlander, Irving Penn, Francis Wolff and Herman Leonard, whose work was used by labels like Blue Note and ECM.
The exhibition encompasses Blue Note and other historic jazz labels like Fantasy, Riverside, Prestige, Milestone and Pablo, but also major labels such Columbia and Atlantic. Also included in the exhibit are albums released by ECM, which has been a powerhouse of European jazz since its birth in 1969.
The exhibition is good for prompting talk about music, as the album covers are displayed in chronological order, making for a kind of visual retrospective of jazz history. Perhaps the best way to enjoy the show is to go with a jazz buff.
Curators have put some thought into the viewing atmosphere as well. The gallery plays jazz albums while the exhibit is open. Additionally, for this show only, visitors are allowed to bring coffee into the museum. The show has been carefully arranged to evoke the casual experience of listening to jazz.
Every other Saturday at 3 p.m., viewers will be serenaded by a live jazz performance, including informal introductions about the music, by local musicians. The next performance is scheduled for March 27.

by Park Soo-mee

“All That Jazz Cats” runs through May 16. For more information, call (02) 720-0667.
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