Louis Armstrong The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Columbia Legacy)

The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Columbia Legacy)

Record Reviews

Louis Armstrong

The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Columbia Legacy)

The superlatives have been floated for decades: the Rosetta Stone of jazz, the roadmap of American music, the musical shot heard 'round the world. These late-Twenties recording sessions predate most everything we know about popular music. Though most point to them as they would the Dead Sea Scrolls, from today's perspective, it's hard to understand how this jaunty, old-fashioned music changed everything, or how a mugging entertainer last seen on television with a horn, handkerchief, and huge grin was once as influential as Sigmund Freud or Pablo Picasso. Louis Armstrong began his career in the bands of New Orleans' King Oliver and New York's Fletcher Henderson, at a time that was largely dominated by hokey vaudevillian pop music. Having gained a reputation as a prodigious trumpet talent, Armstrong took advantage of newborn freedoms and kept his new music deeply rooted in the Southern blues tradition, which has become a cornerstone for all jazz to follow. His melodic invention extended to his voice, woefully unrecorded to this point. With it, he introduced an entirely new way of singing popular songs. Hear the contrast between the old and the new on "Butter & Egg Man," as May Alix attempts to duet with Armstrong. Listen to the variations between the verses of "The Last Time," as he swoops and slurs his phrasing in entirely new fashions, never once repeating himself; or the famed recorded debut of scat singing on "Heebie Jeebies." Yet even beyond these innovations was Armstrong's sense of timing, extending to both his trumpet and voice, as he feigns and dances in an almost disembodied state, pushing and tugging at the beat, playing with it. Early jazz was locked in stiff ragtime rhythms, but Armstrong taught the world to swing. His comping on the intro to "I'm Not Rough" is a marvel, as is his syncopation on "Muskrat Ramble." It all sounds so natural now, but outside of New Orleans, no one had ever heard anything like this before, and coming from a talent as phenomenal as Armstrong's, the effect was overwhelming. There are so many magic milestones, and they all coalesce in "West End Blues," which many believe to be the best record ever made. From its stunning fanfare to its mournful finish, the song may be the closest thing to perfection the world will ever know. Nothing would be the same after these benchmark tunes reached the public. All together for the first time, this 4-CD box set is jammed with timeless pleasures, though the elaborate liner notes, photos, and packaging surrounding them don't begin to do justice to the music within. To be fair, it's hard to imagine anything that could.

*****

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