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Though he’s best known for right-place-right-time engineering and production work with pop and jazz giants such as Ray Charles, John Coltrane, and Eric Clapton, the subject of Tom Dowd & the Language of Music had already made history before ever setting foot in a recording studio. A teenage World War II draftee, Dowd was stationed in Columbia University’s physics lab, where he participated in the Manhattan Project—work that later had him monitoring nuclear test explosions in the middle of the Pacific. Dowd’s experience convinced him that he should become a nuclear physicist upon returning home, but Columbia’s unwillingness to give the amateur pianist and bassist college credit for his secret work—not to mention Manhattan’s bounty of recording jobs— quickly redirected the young man’s ambitions. Filmmaker Mark Moormann gives viewers a little bit of family legacy—Dowd’s mom was an opera singer, his pops a stage manager—but most of this doc is focused on the ever-bearded engineer-producer’s life in the studio. And what a life it was: Dowd was hired by Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun after recording Stick McGhee’s 1949 hit “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” and he stayed with the company for four decades. It was at Atlantic that Dowd built and rebuilt the label’s studios and recorded everything from the Coasters’ “Charlie Brown” to Ornette Coleman’s 1960 album-length improv, Free Jazz—and he even claims to have conceived Ginger Baker’s gone-native beat on Cream’s 1967 hit “Sunshine of Your Love.” There’s a smidgen of old footage here—most notably a clip of Dowd working on arrangements with Aretha Franklin—but The Language of Music is made up mainly of recent interviews with Dowd, who passed away in the fall of 2002, and colleagues such as Charles, Clapton, and members of the Allman Brothers. This is, in other words, the kind of straight-up, talking-head-style film that most viewers will probably find nowhere near as compelling as this summer’s documentary blockbusters. Even so, Moormann deserves credit for his simple and sturdy storytelling, and for not turning The Language of Music into the overtechnical, trade-centric flick that it could have easily become. Throughout, he keeps the emphasis where it belongs: on the man as much as the music. —Brent Burton