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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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LOUIS ARMSTRONG

Weather Bird

Le Chant du Monde 274 2401.03

 

 

CD1

1. Cornet Chop Suey

2. Muskrat Ramble

3. Who’sit

4. Jazz Lips

5. I’m Goin’ Huntin’

6. If You Wanna Be My Sugar Papa

7. Wild Man Blues

8. Potato Head Blues

9. Melancholy Blues

10. Weary Blues

11. Twelfth Street Rag

12. Keyhole Blues

13. Struttin’ with Some Barbecue

14. Got No Blues

15. Once in a While

16. Two Deuces

17. Savoyager’s Stomp

18. No

19. Beau Koo Jack

20. Weather Bird

21. Mahogany Hall Stomp

22. After You’ve Gone

23. St Louis Blues

24. Dear Old Southland

25. Tiger Rag

CD2

1. Swing That Music

2. To You, Sweetheart, Aloha

3. My Darling Nelly Gray

4. When the Saints Go Marching In

5. The Song is Ended

6. Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

7. Perdido Street Blues

8. Down in Honky Tonk Town

9. Coal Cart Blues

10. Joseph ‘n his Brudders

11. Back o’ Town Blues

12. I Want a Little Girl

13. Sugar

14. Blues for Yesterday

15. Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

16. Where the Blues Were Born in New Orleans

17. Rockin’ Chair

18. Fifty-Fifty Blues

19. Please Stop Playing Those Blues, Boys

20. Lovely Weather We’re Having

21. You Don’t Learn That in School

22. I’ll Keep the Lovelight Burning

23. Blueberrry Hill

24. La Vie en rose

25. C’est si bon

CD3

1. A Kiss to Build a Dream On

2. Cold Cold Heart

3. When It’s Sleepy Time Down South

4. Indian Love Call

5. I Laughed at Love

6. Your Cheating Heart

7. Sittin’ in the Sun

8. Someday You’ll be Sorry

9. Loveless Love

10. The Memphis Blues

11. Atlanta Blues

12. Black and Blue

13. Blue Turning Grey Over You

14. Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now

15. Easy Street

16. Mack the Knife

17. I’ll Never Be the Same

18. I Was Doing All Right

19. What’s New?

20. Just One of Those Things

21. Shadrack

22. Since Love Had its Way

23. Lonesome

 

The publicity says that this album is part of a “new series” called “Jazz Characters” but the same company (Le Chant du Monde) released in 2011 a very similar album containing some of the same tracks, in a series called “Immortal Characters”. Having got that out of the way, I am happy to say that this triple CD, presented in a four-panel Digipack, makes a very good introduction to the work of Louis Armstrong. The tracks are arranged in (almost) chronological order, which makes it possible to trace Armstrong’s career from 1926 to 1961.

As it starts in 1926, this compilation omits Louis’ work with King Oliver and Fletcher Henderson. In fact the choice of recordings doesn’t include all the items one might expect. For instance, it leaves out Heebie Jeebies (the first example of Armstrong’s scat singing) and West End Blues (with its famous unaccompanied introduction). Instead, the choice of tracks sometimes seems perverse, as in the inclusion of the mediocre Who’sit, with a decidedly shaky trombone solo from Kid Ory and a solo on the swanee whistle played by an uncredited musician. Listeners may expect this sort of collection to include the greatest hits but perhaps that was not the intention of the compilers, who may have wanted to avoid the obvious.

Even in these early tracks, Armstrong was an assured and technically brilliant player. His long solo on Wild Man Blues is a tour de force. And Potato Head Blues is a classic, not least for Louis’ subtle phrasing. As for his singing, the sleeve-notes credit him with vocals on some of the early tracks but he is not actually heard singing until Keyhole Blues, where his scatted vocals are clearly an extension of his trumpet playing. It was probably this “instrumental” aspect of his singing that was most influential on later vocalists.

Throughout much of the first CD, the pianist is Earl Hines, who is particularly good in Savoyager’s Stomp. His greatest achievement was Weather Bird, the album’s title-track: a duet with Louis in which they seem to be in total telepathic contact with one another.

At the start of the second CD, Louis does straightforward vocals on Swing That Music with Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra, and he adds a stimulating solo. The next track is a complete contrast, as Louis goes Hawaiian, singing with the Polynesians on this 1936 recording. He also does a couple of numbers with the Mills Brothers as well as singing some spirituals. These more “commercial” tracks illustrate Armstrong’s versatility and show how he threw himself into every situation he encountered: a true professional. He even refreshes the hackneyed Saints with a fine solo.

Tracks 7 to 9 include the ever-competitive Sidney Bechet, but Louis holds his ground. Towards the end of CD2 and the beginning of CD3, tracks with the orchestras of Sy Oliver and Gordon Jenkins mark Louis’ increasing profile as a popular entertainer whose vocals were virtually as important as his trumpet playing. This emphasis might have been reinforced if the collection had included such hits as Hello Dolly, What a Wonderful World and We Have All the Time in the World but these are – perhaps fortunately – absent.

The transition from the forties to the fifties is indicated here through several tracks by the Armstrong All Stars. Some critics accused Louis of dumbing down with this ensemble but I think it was one of his happiest moves. He was surrounded by sympathetic musicians like Barney Bigard and Billy Kyle, who were also technically adroit, and Louis combined entertainment with superb musicianship. A track like The Memphis Blues has a wonderful conversation between trumpet and trombone (Trummy Young). And Louis’ solo on Blue Turning Grey Over You shows that he had lost none of his powerful eloquence.

The third CD ends with some recordings that Armstrong made with Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck, proving that Louis could fit in comfortably with more “modern” musicians. All in all, this is a remarkable compilation containing music clearly remastered – and several surprises!

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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