Some might assert that the Fremaux label's triple-CD set, containing almost everything Louis Armstrong
recorded between December 1928 and April 1931, presents him at his creative peak and that Medici Arts' DVD (actually from 1963) is an occasionally sad document of a man who had achieved international fame but was no longer innovative. And this much is true: the Armstrong who blazed in his early days did slow with age and the trumpet is a particularly demanding instrument.
But those assumptions need re-examination. Taken together, the two sets say much about the sometimes uneasy relations between "improvised jazz" and "popular music," however you define those terms. The CDs begin with the irreplaceable duet of Armstrong and pianist Earl Hines on "Weather Bird"three minutes of unfettered, soaring jazzand ends with Armstrong only 28 months later, performing popular songs of the day. But Armstrong himself was far less snobbish about the material he played than jazz scholars have been on his behalf. (The recently issued selections from his at-home tapes show how much pleasure he took in a wide variety of music.) So the CDs do not document a great artist being forced into the marketplace, pleasing the public against his will. Rather, they show a remarkably flexible creator levitating everything he touched, entertaining the audience at the same time, making no distinctions between high and low art.
Even so, the DVD is approached cautiously. Initially the audience seems timid, the musicians unenthusiastic. But between the opening "Sleepy Time Down South" and the scat cadenza of "High Society Calypso," we watch a great artist wooing the audienceboth the people in the hall and viewers in 2009. The All-Stars had descended a good deal from the heights of 1947 and a few of the features for individual players are tedious. But there is more than enough Armstrong to move anyone and the concert is anything but mechanical; most of the solos are varied and Armstrong hardly ever left the stage. The close-ups are priceless and his singing is especially moving.
The compact discs remind us, if we need to be reminded, how Armstrong played and sang wonderfully in any context: jamming with a mixed band on a slow blues in the majestic "Knockin' A Jug," accompanying pop and blues singers, leading a small improvising group on "Heah Me Talkin' To Ya" and "Tight Like That," backing country music icon Jimmie Rodgers on the blues, then slowly making the transition into "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Sweethearts on Parade," making those pop hits forever his own. The only problem with this set is that an unwary listener will be tempted to listen to track after track, where each performance deserves to be heard in its original 78 aura, three minutes at a time. Much of this material has been issued on two JSP collections, but the "integrale" concept is attractive in its attempt at completeness, although Fremeaux has apparently left off a run-through take of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" that surfaced on JSP. Both the CDs and the DVD offer more than enough opportunity for listeners and viewers to bask in the great man's passion and swing.
Tracks and Personnel Integrale Vol. 5
Tracks: CD1: Hear Me Talking To Ya; St James Infirmary; Tight Like This; Knockin' A Jug; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Mahogany Hall Stomp; S'posin; Weather Bird; To Be In Love; Funny Feathers; How Do You Do It That Way; Ain't Misbehavin'; Black And Blue; That Rhythm Man; Sweet Savannah Sue; Ain't Misbehavin'; Some Of These Days; Some Of These Days; When You're Smiling; When You're smiling; After You've Gone; After You've Gone. CD2: After You've Gone; I Ain't Got Nobody; I Ain't Got Nobody; Dallas Blues; Dallas Blues; St Louis Blues; St Louis Blues; St Louis Blues; Rockin' Chair; Song Of The Islands; Bessie Couldn't Help It; Blue Turning Grey Over You; Dear Old Southland; My Sweet; I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me; Rockin' Chair; Indian Cradle Song; Exactly Like You; Dinah; Tiger Rag; Blue Yodel. CD3: I'm Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas; In The Market For You; Confessin' That I Love You; If I Can Be With You One Hour Tonight; Body And Soul; Memories Of You; You're Lucky To Me; Sweethearts On Parade; You're Driving Me Crazy; You're Driving Me Crazy; The Peanut Vendor; Just A Gigolo; Shine; Walkin' My Baby Back Home; I Surrender Dear; When It's Sleepy Time Down South; Blue Again; Little Joe; You Rascal You; Them There Eyes; When Your Lover Has Gone.
Personnel: Louis Armstrong: trumpet, vocal; Red Allen: trumpet; J. C. Higginbotham, Jack Teagarden, Lawrence Brown, Tommy Dorsey: trombone; Don Redman, Albert Nicholas, Charlie Holmes, Teddy Hill, Jimmy Dorsey: reeds; Earl Hines, Joe Sullivan, Luis Russell, Joe Turner, Lil Armstrong: piano; Eddie Condon, Eddie Lang, Lonnie Johnson, Bernard Addison: guitar / banjo; Joe Venuti: violin; Pops Foster: bass; Zutty Singleton, Paul Barbarin, Kaiser Marshall: drums; Lionel Hampton: drums, vibraphone; Seger Ellis, Vctoria Spivey, Jimmie Rodgers, Hoagy Carmichael: vocal. Live in Australia 1964
Tracks: When It's Sleepy Time Down South; Now You Has Jazz; High Society Calypso; Basin Street Blues; Perdido; Blueberry Hill; How High the Moon; Mack the Knife; Sweet Georgia Brown; Did You Hear About Jerry; I Left My Heart in San Francisco; When the Saints Go Marching in.
Personnel: Louis Armstrong: trumpet, vocal; Trummy Young: trombone, vocal; Joe Darensbourg: clarinet; Billy Kyle: piano; Arvell Shaw: bass; Danny Barccelona: drums; Jewel Brown: vocal.