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Louis Armstrong reissues feature:

The Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings
Satch Blows The Blues
Louis Armstrong And His Friends

It is indicative of just how transitory image and critical opinion can be that trumpeter/vocalist Louis Armstrong was once somehow considered not only passé, but offensively dated. Armstrong's credentials as a ground-breaking soloist earned him the right to legitimately make the same claim as pianist/composer Jelly Roll Morton that he "invented jazz," only Armstrong had far more credible evidence to bolster his contention. Armstrong obliterated all prior notions about what could and couldn't be played on his instrument, while also proving it was possible for a masterful instrumentalist to be equally exciting as a singer. Even though Armstrong's innovative period only lasted two decades, what he did in the 20s and 30s changed the course of jazz and American music history. Unfortunately, he became so locked into the traditional jazz form during the 40s and beyond he was subsequently marginalized in the minds of those unable or unwilling to acknowledge his previous importance. But by the time of his death in the early 70s, Louis Armstrong¹s greatness was re-evaluated, and now he¹s duly acknowledged as jazz's first spectacular solo star.

Armstrong's linchpin recordings were his Hot Five and Hot Seven dates in the late 20s. These weren't band sessions, but all-star studio collaborations between Armstrong and such worthy cohorts as clarinetist Johnny Dodds, drummer Baby Dodds, banjo player Johnny St. Cyr, tuba stalwart Pete Briggs and Armstrong's wife Lil. But he emerged almost immediately as the star, playing with a fire, passion and singular dramatic force that's instantly identifiable today. This 18-cut disc offers a condensed look at history, and is a good introduction to the four-disc boxed set Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings that belongs in any remotely serious record collection. "Heebie Jeebies" is widely regarded as the first scat vocal in history, but the liner notes thankfully set the record straight about that and the myth that Armstrong forgot the words and just wordlessly improvised. His reading's too clear, confident and magnetic to somehow have been done on the spot. "Muskrat Ramble" and "Potato Head Blues" are declarative, ringing numbers with striking Armstrong solos, as well as "Alligator Crawl," "Wild Man Blues," and "St. James Infirmary." This is an essential compilation, but it should only entice listeners to purchase the entire set as there are several other worthy numbers that didn't make the cut.

"West End Blues" appears among the 16 featured songs on Satch Blows The Blues, another Legacy compilation covering various albums. The best cuts are those from the 20s and 30s, when every Armstrong trumpet solo and vocal lead was memorable. By the 50s, he'd retreated into convention. He could still deliver technically brilliant performances, but now his note choices were calculated rather than imaginative, and his singing became more cliched than delightful. Yet, his 1955 All-Star band included a first-rate clarinet player in Barney Bigard and an above-average trombonist in Trummy Young. However, the four mid-50s cuts that complete the disc are vastly inferior to the 12 compelling pieces that preceded them.

Louis Armstrong and His Friends initially was issued on Flying Dutchman records, and was his final studio album. Armstrong was so ill by this time that he couldn't play any brass instruments, while his once strong, rich and craggy voice was now limited in scope and quality. However, Armstrong found a way to summon some reserve and execute some charming leads on several songs, among them "My One and Only Love," "We Shall Overcome," "Give Peace A Chance" and the sparking "The Creator Has a Master Plan (Peace)," which paired him with yodeling Leon Thomas. Producer and label owner Bob Thiele also stacked the surrounding cast with many great musicians in surprise guest roles. Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman were both contributors to the choir and chorus on "We Shall Overcome," while Oliver Nelson helped out on the arrangements, and many other A-list types from guitarist Kenny Burrell to trombonist Garnett Brown, bassist Chuck Rainey and drummer Bernard Purdie also assisted in the recording. This reissue contains three bonus cuts, including the original unedited version of "The Creator Has A Master Plan (Peace)," and another rendition with overdub. He wasn't remotely close to his prime on this album, but it remains a hypnotic work anyway, giving audiences a final glimpse of the great player and singer. Armstrong's centennial was noted last year, but his contributions are so monumental that his music should always be remembered and celebrated. -- Ron Wynn

(Ron Wynn is a staff writer and columnist for the Nashville City Paper, free-lance contributor to the Nashville Scene, Tennessee Tribune, No Depression, and Jazz Times, and co-host of Freestyle, heard Wednesday evenings on WFSK-88.1FM along with Jeff Obafemi Carr, Keisha Rucker and Regina Clark).  

Copyright ©2002 AllThingsDeep.com.  All rights reserved.

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Released 2002 on Sony

(click on cover to buy)

Selected Tracks:
The King Of The Zulus
Jazz Lips
Beau Koo Jack

 

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Released 2002 on Sony
(click on cover to buy)

Selected Tracks:
West End Blues
Black and Blue
Beale Street Blues

 

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Released 2002 on RCA
(click on cover to buy)

Selected Tracks:
Mood Indigo
The Creator Has A Master Plan
We Shall Overcome

 

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