Louis Armstrong – Young Satchmo – Birth of a Jazz Genius
(Upbeat URCD256. CD Review by Peter Vacher)
There are endless Armstrong reissues, many as box sets and in special multi-part compilations, often prepared carefully and deploying the latest in sound restoration technology. Now here’s another one, but with a distinctive premise of its own. Expert annotator and compiler Mike Pointon sets out to document a key period in Armstrong’s development, the four years from April 1923 to April 1927 when “he began to change the face of jazz, even before he became a bandleader in his own right.” Starting with his first recorded solo on King Oliver’s Chimes Blues and ending with Armstrong’s joyous choruses on I’m Goin’ Huntin’ amid the puttering of Jimmy Bertrand’s washboard, the emphasis is on Satchmo the sideman, so none of his ground-breaking Hot Fives or Sevens are here.
What is here, of course, is the blossoming of a unique talent, once heard never forgotten, every solo marked by rhythmic displacements that immediately make everyone around him seem square. There are a few exceptions among his peers, most notably, Sidney Bechet and their fierce interplay on Cake Walkin’ Babies From Home still makes the rumble in the jungle seem like child’s play. It’s also salutary to be reminded of Louis’s prowess as a blues accompanist, with Fred Longshaw’s mournful harmonium as his companion on Bessie Smith’s Reckless Blues, or his willingness to step out with the vaudeville singers of the day, like Trixie Smith on The World’s Jazz Crazy. Just to hear his introduction to Clara Smith’s Shipwrecked Blues and his answering commentaries as she makes her stately way through the performance is worth the price of admission alone.
Young Louis – he was 22 when he made ‘Chimes Blues – made 83 sessions in the four year period covered by these recordings. Black audiences in Chicago and New York evidently knew his worth – within a few short years, the rest of the world would fall at his feet. A jazz genius, for sure, but an entertainer, too.