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Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong & The All Stars: Complete Newport 1956 & 1958

C. Andrew Hovan By

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It's interesting how time seems to serve an artist when offering a better perspective of a particular time period or body of work. Such is the case with Louis Armstrong. Critics often cite his earliest recordings as the be all and end all, as if he had never recorded another note past 1950. In fact, Armstrong was still a few years away from his 60th birthday when he was captured on tape at Newport doing what he did best-interacting with an audience.

This new four-LP set brings together Armstrong's complete performances as heard at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956 and 1958. The music has had somewhat of a checkered past in terms of its presentation and reception. The 1956 set was panned by Down Beat magazine upon release, yet the full picture of both shows was lacking due to technical glitches and George Avakian's patchwork editing. Truth be told, Avakian hated bass solos and managed to delete them whenever possible. Distortion was also present on Armstrong's vocals, a problem now rectified thanks to the merging of both the original Columbia masters and a tape source from the Voice of America.

The new results, also available on Mosaic's more expansive nine-CD box, are positively stunning, with the electricity of each set pouring through the speakers in palpable form. There is a vibrancy to these dead quiet pressings (courtesy of QRP) that speaks to the validity of Armstrong and his group, which included Trummy Young, Edmond Hall, and Billy Kyle.

A medley of "Bugle Blues" and "Ole Miss," as well as "Indiana," find the All Stars inspired for their '56 performance, Kyle's sparkling piano and drummer Barrett Deems' incendiary stick work booting things along with vim and vigor. So much for those critics who claimed Armstrong and crew were merely going through their paces.

Two and a half records in this set document the '58 performance, a more expansive one, featuring new band members Peanuts Hucko and drummer Danny Barcelona. There is some crossover in tunes from the earlier recital, but it is illuminating to hear how Armstrong and company manage to freshen up their routine repertoire. "Tiger Rag" and "High Society Calypso" are just two of the more ebullient numbers from the day's offering, some of which were to be heard and seen in the iconic film Jazz on a Summer's Day.

Five numbers, two of them previously unissued, then bring to the stage old friends Bobby Hackett on trumpet and Jack Teagarden on trombone and vocals. It's great to hear Teagarden swoon over "Rockin' Chair" and clearly Armstrong is enjoying the results.

The included booklet includes many period photographs of Armstrong and the band, along with expert commentary by Armstrong archivist and biographer Ricky Riccardi. Of the 40 selections included here, eight of them are previously unreleased and engineer Andreas Meyer has gone back to the splices and edits to restore all missing parts jettisoned by Avakian upon initial release. In the final analysis, no better tribute could be given to Armstrong than the hard work given to restore this music to its rightful place among the trumpeter's discography.

Associated equipment used for evaluation:
Rega P25 turntable fitted with Graham Robin tonearm and Soundsmith Carmen cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Acurus P10 phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner.

Collective Personnel: Louis Armstrong: vocal and trumpet; Bobby Hackett: trumpet; Trummy Young: vocal and trombone; Jack Teagarden: vocals and trombone; Edmond Hall: clarinet; Peanuts Hucko: clarinet; Billy Kyle: piano; Dale Jones: bass; Mort Herbert: bass; Barrett Deems: drums; Danny Barcelona: drums; Velma Middleton: vocals; The International Youth Band conducted by Marshall Brown.

Record One

Side A: When It's Sleepy Time Down South; Indiana; The Gypsy; Medley: Bugle Blues/Ole Miss.

Side B: Tin Roof Blues; My Bucket's Got A Hole In It; Perdido; You Made Me Love You; Whispering.

Record Two

Side A: Mack The Knife; Stompin' At The Savoy; Undecided; Mama's Back In Town; Ko Ko Mo; Mop Mop; When It's Sleepy Time Down South.

Side B: On The Sunny Side Of The Street; Interview with Armstrong and Willis Conover; When It's Sleepy Time Down South; Pretty Little Missy; Lazy River.

Record Three

Side A:Tiger Rag; Now You Has Jazz; High Society Calypso; Ole Miss.

Side B: Girl Of My Dreams; After You've Gone; These Foolish Things; Mack The Knife; Medley: Tenderly/You'll Never Walk Alone.

Record Four

Side A: Stompin' At The Savoy; Undecided; St. Louis Blues; Ko Ko Mo; When The Saints Go Marchin' In.

Side B: Rockin' Chair; Baby Won't You Please Come Home; Pennies From Heaven; When The Saints Go Marchin' In; The Star Spangled Banner.

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