May 27, 2014

SUNNY SIDES:

His Renaissance on Record (TOM NOLAN, May 26, 2014, WSJ)

In the late 1940s, fronting a big-band out of step with the times and recording best-selling but saccharine-sounding vocal platters, Armstrong was being scorned by jazz critics and despaired over by devotees of the earlier hot music he'd helped invent. The renaissance in his sound and reputation came in 1947, when the charismatic performer pared down his ensemble to a combo of "All Stars" for a series of concert-hall appearances that played to his strengths as a virtuoso trumpeter, an inspiring leader, and a witty and emotional singer.

That period of reinvention is vividly presented on "The Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars," an ear-opening, nine-CD Mosaic boxed set to be released next week. Annotated by Armstrong biographer and archivist Ricky Riccardi, the package documents performances from 1947 to 1958 in venues from New York to Amsterdam to Accra.

Whether played in an outdoor stadium or an indoor studio, there's a copious amount on these Mosaic discs of truth, beauty, spontaneous joy and technical prowess--be it the fierce ensemble swing generated on "Royal Garden Blues," the sweetness of "Faithful Hussar" (a European folk tune in which Armstrong seems to scat sing in German) or the at-home party feel of trombonist Trummy Young on "You Can Depend on Me." Armstrong's upper-register notes--a stunning array of high C's, D's, E-flats and even an F--are especially heart-piercing on the slow-drag "Back o' Town Blues," while his loose and winning way with a lyric is demonstrated through three separate versions (at three different tempos) of "On the Sunny Side of the Street." And not until Jimi Hendrix deconstructed the national anthem at Woodstock a decade later would there be anything to rival the ripping, impassioned, bravura "Star Spangled Banner" with which Armstrong caps the All Stars' set at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1958.
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Posted by at May 27, 2014 7:02 PM
  
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