Louis Armstrong - New Orleans to Chicago ****

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Le Chant Du Monde 574 1641-2-3-4-5-6  Louis Armstrong (t, v) with his Hot Five, Hot Seven, Stompers, Orchestra, Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers, Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards, Carroll Dickerson’s Savoyagers, Savoy Ballroom Five and the Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra.

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Here’s a seven-CD box set from this enterprising French reissue label, elegantly produced and annotated, covering seven of the most tumultuous years in the musical life of the first great genius of jazz. I’ve lost count of the number of times this material has been re-released but doubt that it has been assembled in quite this particular sequence before. LCDM has collected all of Louis’s “official studio recordings” made between 1925 and 1932, only eschewing his multitude of appearances during this period as a sideman with blues singers and other miscellaneous small groups. While there is little need for me to talk up the merits of this music – these recordings are the very stuff of jazz history, building blocks for the jazz to come, if you like – the question arises, how good is the remastering and does it deserve recommendation?

Nothing is said in the notes about the techniques employed or the identity of the responsible individual, so it seemed appropriate to evaluate the musical reproduction alongside other reissue sets. In short, it compares well with the Proper box of the same tracks issued in 2005 but is inferior to the very fine set of Hot Fives and Sevens remastered by US Columbia in 2000. Still, that latter set is long gone so this attractive new box is a worthy alternative.

What is not in doubt is the sheer brilliance of Armstrong’s playing on these familiar tracks – it’s good and quite startling in a way, to be reminded, all these years, of his genius. It’s all too easy, at this distance, to take it all for granted, and just think of Louis as the old entertainer crooning huskily on ‘Wonderful World’. It may be a cliché, but no collection aspiring to completeness should be without this material and this is a handy way of scooping a lot up in one go. Peter Vacher

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