Louis Armstrong

Swing, You Cats [History]

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The eighth title in the History label's 15-CD box set Louis Armstrong and the fifth in the Past Perfect label's ten-CD box set Portrait (both imprints are part of the German firm the International Music Company), Swing, You Cats spans a lost period in Armstrong's career. The first 13 tracks, recorded in January and April 1933 in Chicago for RCA-Victor Records, find the trumpeter/vocalist fronting Zilner Randolph's band. There is then a break of almost two and a half years before Armstrong returns to the recording studio in New York for Decca, backed by Luis Russell's band, in October and November 1935 for the last seven tracks. In between is a lengthy trip to Europe (July 1933 to January 1935) and an extended layoff due to business and health problems. (An October 1934 session for Brunswick in Paris is not included.) Though both parts showcase Armstrong, with the backup bands given relatively little solo space, the performances differ. The RCA tracks feature a more uninhibited Armstrong, joking through "Laughin' Louie" and encouraging reed player Budd Johnson to sing in "viper's language" on "Sweet Sue, Just You," while the Decca tracks, using a slightly larger band, are more conventional swing performances, among them the hits "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "You Are My Lucky Star." (The Decca tracks have more surface noise than the RCA ones.) Although this material is in the public domain in Europe, it is claimed by RCA-Victor and Universal Music in the U.S.; nevertheless, the two box sets are readily available at modest prices domestically through mail order. The material can be found in better fidelity and with annotations on the four-CD box set The Complete RCA-Victor Recordings and on GRP's Rhythm Saved the World, but this album is less expensive.

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