It's obvious from the outset that this album is a labor of love by co-producers George Avakian and Randy Sandke, as well as the very talented musicians who come together on this set. Putting together the album required a good deal of tenacious research, the almost coincidental getting together of individuals who had like minds about the wonderful material, the willingness of the German (shame on the US record companies) label Nagel Heyer to record and release the material, and some good luck. The details of how it all came together, with a hint of future releases, is described in detail in the extensive liner notes.
There are two distinct parts to this release. The first deals with music written by Louis Armstrong which has recently been discovered at the Library of Congress. Armstrong never got around to recording all these compositions. One of the pleasures of this album is that the players come close to what the music would have sounded like if Armstrong had it on disk. The Beiderbecke material is a bit different in that first, he didn't compose all the material and second, he recorded all but two of the tracks. But for those pieces he did record, the masters were destroyed and the performances had to be reconstructed from secondary sources.
The Armstrong material was composed over a period of 23 years. They were written for different groups such as the King Porter band and a duo. The pieces fall across the spectrum of tempos. There's "When You Leave Me Alone to Pine" the first ballad written by Armstrong. Then there's up beat syncopation on "Papa, What Are You Trying to Do to Me I've Been Doing It for Years". Armstrong clearly had a group like his Hot Sevens (or here, Eight) when he penned this tune. Sandke and clarinetist Kenny Davern have a lot of fun here. "Weather Bird", recorded by Armstrong and Earl Hines in their historic December 1928 meeting, is replicated by Sandke (including the high note at the end) and Dick Hyman. Mention has to be made of the interplay between Wycliffe Gordon, Jon-Erik Kellso and Kenny Davern on a blues drenched "When You Leave Me Alone to Pine".
Turning to the Beiderbecke sets, his pieces reflect the various musical influences Bix was subject to during his short and tragic life. The avant-garde classical composers (for that time) like Delius and Ravel to the hot jazz heard in Chicago, including his visits to places where Armstrong was playing, come together in his music. The Armstrong influence can be seen inwith Scott Robinson playing solo on the rarely heard bass sax followed by Ken Peplowski's clarinet. The Delius effect is heard on "Cloudy", a delicate ballad again featuring Robinson and Peplowski with Sandke's plaintive trumpet and Hyman's floating piano and celeste.
The remainder of the tracks and personnel are just as compelling as those mentioned specifically. The line up of players are among the best musicians on today's scene and know this music well. Buy this album, slip it into the CD player and get ready to enjoy over an hour of music associated with two jazz pioneers.
The Music of Louis Armstrong: Papa What Are You Trying to Do to Me I've Been Doing It for Years; When You Leave Me Alone to Pine; Drop that Sack; Weather Bird; The Jive Don't Come from Kokomo; Beyond a Shadow of Doubt; Mr. Jackson from Jacksonville; Medley: Got What It Takes/I need Your Kind of Lovin'.
The Music of Bix Beiderbecke: No One Knows What It's all About; Play It Red; Lily; Did You Mean It?; Betcha I Getcha; Cloudy; Stampede.
Personnel: Randy Sandke, Jon - Erik Kellso, Nicholas Payton - Trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon, Dan Barrett - Trombone; Kenny Davern - Clarinet; Ken Peplowski - Clarinet, Tenor Sax; Chuck Wilson - Alto Sax; Scott Robinson - Tenor, Bass & C-Melody Sax; Howard Alden, James Chirillo - Guitar, Banjo; Dick Hyman - Celeste, Piano; David Ostwald - Tuba; Peter Washington, Greg Cohen - Bass; Joe Ascione - Drums