Imagine the opening credits to a summer blockbuster movie that starts out in space looking down at the earth. As the camera moves in you recognize North America, then the east coast comes into frame and finally the island of Manhattan. The camera pans across the skyscrapers, down, down, down to Chinatown between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Finally, you see 13 Monroe Street at street level. You notice an old building, first you here the chanting, then you see the American Buddhist Association. Carefully look down and to the left or you'll miss a true national treasure, the Downtown Music Gallery.
Maybe you have made the pilgrimage to DMG in one of their two prior locations, opened first in 1991 in the east village and then later, the Bowery. DMG is Bruce Lee Gallanter and Manny "Lunch" Maris, but more about them later. This past year they signed a ten year lease to continue delivering the self-described "music on the edge: underground & avant jazz, art rock/pop, contemporary classical, and the completely uncategorizable." With the closing of Tower Records, HMV, and soon Virgin Records, these two entrepreneurs are carrying the responsibility for making available the recorded music of our time, and as I found out, so much more.
If you have been to their web site and searched the database with over 35,000 entries (most with reviews or detailed descriptions) you understand the breadth of their holdings. We're talking everything from long out-of-print releases to artist-produced limited edition CD-Rs, small domestic labels and labels from all parts of the globe, including Belgium, Russia, and Lebanon. They provide CDs, hundreds of DVDs, and also the coveted LPs, buying collections in addition to delivering the latest releases.
Perhaps you subscribe to DMG's weekly newsletter, listing dozens of new releases along with ten or so reviews written by Gallanter. The depth of knowledge between the two partners is quite impressive. If it (meaning music) happened in NY in the last 35 years, you can make a safe bet one of the two were in attendance. And if you believe jazz is approximately 100 years old, we are talking about one-third of the history of this music has been witnessed by these two great men!
The new location, a well kept basement, has the feel of Paris' Shakespeare & Company from 50 years ago, where you are likely to bump into local musicians like Tim Berne and William Parker or European players Han Bennink and Peter Brötzmann, or maybe the next Downtown sensation delivering copies of her new recordings.
Gallanter explained that although their business is approximately 60% mail order, they maintain a retail presence to keep a connection to the listening community: talk to them, exchange ideas, and though he didn't say it, clearly educate those who ask about the history of improvised music and advise listeners how to broaden their experience. While I visited DMG, I overheard two customers deliberating the merits of Albert Ayler's contribution to modern music. Indeed, this open atmosphere and jazz education experience is realized each Sunday afternoon with a free in store performance. Free, can you believe it, nothing is free in New York these days.
A scan of the stacks would please any Bill Laswell or Raoul Bjorkenheim completists. I found a copy of Bill Frisell's long out-of-print disc Power Tools Strange Meeting (1987). If it is out there, it is in here. And that is because not only musicians trust DMG but small labels. With the collapse of the major labels, because, as explained by Gallanter, "they made too much money and exploited too many people," the small independent record companies like Peter Gordon's Thirsty Ear, Steven Joerg's AUM Fidelity, or Kurt Kellison's Atavistic Records will be the classic music of this new century. Maris and Gallanter's seeking new sounds and collecting them in this one space is their gift to the listener, but moreover their calling.
But yet there's more. DMG has launched its own label to preserve long out-of-print discs and present new music. Their dmg @ the stone series are culled from music curated by Gallanter and Maris at The Stone performance space. So far they have released sets by Raoul Bjørkenheim, William Parker and Hamid Drake's trio and the quartet of Joelle Leandre with Marilyn Crispell, Mat Maneri and Roy Campbell.
Gallanter also has a library of 5,000 cassette and DAT recordings of live performances from the NY loft scene, to festivals and small clubs. Those treasures, like those of Dean Benedetti's Charlie Parker recordings or Mike Harris' Secret Sessions tapes of Bill Evans may someday see the light of day.