LOUIS ARMSTRONG The Pure Genius Of Louis Armstrong We Have All The Time In The World (EMI)
No, really, Im not joking! Despite the pungent stench of corporate cashin that hangs heavy over this release (check out the title, for example - why not just slap a picture of a pint of Guinness on the cover and have done with it? - the minimal tending to zero booklet information, and the lack of a vinyl pressing) this album contains great swathes of superb music. Drawn entirely from Satchmos post-World War Two career - which means none of the Hot Fives and Sevens sides so beloved of Colin Larkin (or so beloved of whoever wrote the jazz section of his "All Time Top 1000 Albums" book) - it includes Armstrongs interpretations of such popular classics such as "What A Wonderful World", "Mack The Knife (A Theme From The Threepenny Opera" (with his cheesy opening, "Hey dig man, there goes Mack the Knife", which always makes me smile), "Cabaret", "Hello Dolly", "Moon River", "When The Saints Go Marching In"...the list is endless. The undoubted highlight, however, is the title track, from that advert, originally featured on the soundtrack of "On Her Majestys Secret Service". Recorded when Armstrong was over seventy, it has more sophisticated, relaxed soul than most artists half his age could muster.
If any confirmation of its relevance as the perfect pop music of its time (along with the best of Frank Sinatras Capitol work, for example) were needed, observe how many artists are still covering these songs today: theres Nick Cave and Shane MacGowans inebriated duet of "What A Wonderful World", Stings (cough) oompah "Mack The Knife", Morrisseys sweeping, cinematic "Moon River", and My Bloody Valentines luscious, note-perfect "We Have All The Time In The World", recorded for the "Peace Together" charity project. And you can use it to impress your jazz buff friends by putting the, er, authentically primitive recording of "Tiger Rag" on repeat when they come round.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy (Pure Pleasure)
What might seem like an unusual amalgam on paper - jazz musicians playing the blues - sounds, in these practiced hands, more like pure music, something that exists outside strict genre confines. Dominated from the first by the bright, bordering on shrill, but unstoppable sound of Armstrong's trumpet, this 1954 album is great. Velma Middleton, a sassier singer than Ella, makes the perfect vocal foil for Satchmo; the latter wields his big, bear hug of a voice, punctuated by a guttural Sid James cackle. Of course, Columbia clearly knew what they were doing: the album carried the strapline ""The Father of the Blues" interpreted by the master of jazz trumpet and jazz singing" and was released as part of the label's Great Jazz Composers Series, whilst the opener "St. Louis' Blues" took advantage of the then relatively new Lp format's extended playing time by stretching out to almost nine minutes. The vintage sleevenotes emphasised this fact gleefully by pointing out that "for the 45rpm edition, we had to cut it down to 7 minutes". (Columbia invented the LP; the 45 was a rival development by RCA. Ironically, the two companies are now part of the same media empire.)
The music is largely irresistible, despite a certain inevitable repetitiveness. The interplay between the two vocalists on "St Louis Blues" is priceless. "Long Gone" is perhaps, if pushed to pick, the album's most purely entertaining moment: the chemistry, the arrangement and the raucous backing vocals all conspire to make it fabulous, if not exactly what I understand by the blues. There are even some subtle but interesting uses of multi-tracking, as Louis appears to vocally encourage himself during his own solo.
Pure Pleasure's 180 gram vinyl reissue is pretty good, although that trumpet tone can seem excessively piercing at times and there's more end of side distortion than expected. It's still pretty good, though, if not as greatgoshamighty stunning as some of the company's other products. Helpfully, though, they've seen fit to spread the album over two discs and include the bonus material from the CD reissue. Almost documentary in scope, the extras comprise "George Avakian's Interview With W.C. Handy", wherein the producer converses with the songwriter, "Alligator Story", in which Armstrong demonstrates the briefest sliver of his potential as a stand-up comic, and three rehearsal sequences. Of the latter, again "Long Gone" scores the bullseye; it's educational to hear George, Louis and Velma marshalling the massed forces and arranging on the fly, the sound of a recording session that's practically saturated with music.
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong