In the movie Manhattan (1978), Woody Allen's depressed protagonist dictates a list of the things he believes make life truly worth living. Along with Willie Mays and Cezanne's paintings of apples and pears, Allen includes Louis Armstrong's recording of "Potato Head Blues." Whenever you listen to Louis Armstrong, you are doing right by your soul.
And you can keep doing right by it in 2009, thanks to this live date from Switzerland, which comprehensively chronicles a performance by Armstrong's "Hot Six," given in Zurich in October of 1949. The term "All-Stars" is apt, describing a six-man summit of premiere artistry. Along with the legendary Armstrong, who sounds more vibrant and exciting than ever, it includes the great Jack Teagarden (trombone), who shows off his second talent as a singer on two wonderful odes to the Big Easy: "Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)?" and "Basin Street Blues."
The rest of the group only enhances this formidable horn duo, beginning with "Mood Indigo," co-composer Barney Bigard (clarinet) fresh off a years-long engagement with Duke Ellington's orchestra. Bigard shines brightest on a lengthy "Body and Soul" that unexpectedly evolves into a swinging party. Earl Hines, who would remain with Armstrong for many years, had already finished leading what many considered to be the first bebop large ensemble. You never would've known it when he seamlessly sinks into a stride-oriented reading of Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose." Rounding out the rhythm section are Armstrong mainstay Arvell Shaw (bass) and another swing-king in drummer Cozy Cole, known as one of the top men in his field after supporting Cab Calloway and Jelly Roll Morton.
Solid (though not totally pristine) audio quality, as well as comprehensive liner notes including fascinating photos and promotional flyers from the event, combine with the terrific music itself to make Live in Zurich, Switzerland an outstanding archival find.
When It's Sleepy Time Down South; That's A Plenty; Basin Street Blues; Royal Garden Blues; Struttin' With Some Barbeque; Black and Blue; Velma's Blues; Honeysuckle Rose; Fine and Dandy; Body and Soul; Back o' Town Blues; High Society; Do You Know What It Means; The Huckle-Buck.
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