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We’ve heard a number of recorded tributes to Louis Armstrong during the centenary of that renowned Jazz pioneer’s birth but none more captivating than this one by the superb Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra and guest trumpeter Leroy Jones. Louis is gone but his indomitable spirit lives on in stylists like Jones, born and bred, as was Armstrong, in New Orleans and enraptured by the Crescent City’s musical traditions. But even though he’s an ardent admirer of Satchmo, Jones is no clone, having drawn his inspiration as much from Miles Davis and Clifford Brown as from Louis — and when he sings, the flavor of New Orleans is conspicuous but the more elusive ingredients that made Armstrong so unique are purposely banished from the recipe. What is most impressive about these concert dates is the resourceful way in which McNeely, Jones and the DRJO, with help from arrangers Bill Potts, Vincent Nilsson, Peter Jensen and Harry Connick Jr., have reshaped the time–honored New Orleans temperament to suit a more contemporary milieu without sacrificing more than a shade of its basic character or spirit. On the album’s centerpiece, “The Power and the Glory,” McNeely deftly weaves parts of five compositions including Satchmo’s solo passages into a colorful tapestry that splendidly conveys Armstrong’s unrivaled charm and comprehension. The other extended works are Nilsson’s enterprising arrangement of “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” and Jensen’s updated perusal of “Dinah.” McNeely orchestrated “Hotter Than That” and “Weather Bird,” both of which were written by Armstrong’s first wife, pianist / composer Lil Hardin, while Potts arranged “Copenhagen” and “Mahogany Hall Stomp” and Connick the buoyant finale, “What a Wonderful World.” The DRJO is present on all but one number, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” on which Jones and trumpeter Henrik Bolberg Pedersen are backed by the rhythm section (bassist Thomas Ovesen, drummer Søren Frost, McNeely sitting in for pianist Nikolaj Bentzon). Jones sings on “Sleepy Time,” as he does on “Someday You’ll Be Sorry,” “Dinah” and “Wonderful World.” He’s also the most prominent soloist although there are cogent statements by Pedersen and McNeely (“Sleepy Time”), tenor Tomas Franck (“Hotter Than That”), Frost, Franck, tenor Uffe Markussen and trumpeter Thomas Fryland (“Dinah”). McNeely, a modernist who seldom strays far from that environment, shows his versatility here, meticulously supervising and endorsing every aspect of this memorable salute to one of the fathers of Jazz, the legendary Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. As always, he and the DRJO comprise a winning team, one whose proficiency is further enhanced by the engaging presence of Leroy Jones.
Track Listing: Copenhagan; The Power and the Glory; Someday You
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.