The fourth title in the History label's 15-CD box set Louis Armstrong and the third in the Past Perfect label's ten-CD box set Portrait (both imprints are part of the German firm the International Music Company), Mahogany Hall Stomp covers a period of almost 14 months in Louis Armstrong's recording career, 1928-30, that marks a crucial transition in his work. The album opens with the last five tracks considered part of his Hot Five and Hot Seven small band recordings of the 1920s, among them the hit "St. James Infirmary." These performances of often original material helped set the parameters of jazz improvisation for decades to come. The big change in Armstrong's recording approach comes in March 1929, when he has moved from Chicago to New York, is recording with a big band, and is performing standards like the first song in this style, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." By now, the band is basically a backup unit intended to support him. Among the selections are the hits "Ain't Misbehavin'," "When You're Smiling," "St. Louis Blues," "Rockin' Chair," and "After You've Gone." What sounds like considerable sound processing has resulted in a hiss- and crackle-free sound that misses the highs as a result. Although this material is in the public domain in Europe, it is claimed by Sony Music in the U.S.; nevertheless, the two box sets are readily available at a modest price domestically through mail order. Columbia/Legacy's albums Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, Louis in New York, and St. Louis Blues contain these recordings in better fidelity and with far superior annotations, and so are recommended over this barebones collection, which cuts off arbitrarily after 20 tracks, or in the middle of the February 1, 1930, recording session. But this one is also far less expensive.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann