If one CD compilation could represent a body of work that defined the art of jazz during the mid-'20s, this might be it: cornetist Louis Armstrong's first recordings as leader of his own band, beginning in November of 1925 and covering almost exactly one year of vigorously creative activity as the OKeh record label's hottest act. In addition to Lil Hardin's skills as composer, pianist, arranger, and professional advisor, Armstrong was fortunate to have in his little group rock-solid trombonist Kid Ory and clarinetist Johnny Dodds, who can be heard playing alto sax on "Come Back Sweet Papa" and "Don't Forget to Mess Around." Last but not least, Johnny St. Cyr's banjo served as the rhythmic and tonal backbone of the Hot Five. Some of these records -- "Cornet Chop Suey," "Muskrat Ramble," "Heebie Jeebies," and "Yes! I'm in the Barrel" -- became archetypal blueprints for jazz performance. Each track is packed with pleasant surprises. "Gut Bucket Blues," named in honor of a diet of entrails dictated by poverty, was one of Armstrong's very first recordings to be punctuated with friendly, vocal outbursts. Inspired by a popular dance step, "Georgia Bo Bo" was composed by Thomas "Fats" Waller. Lil Hardin's "King of the Zulus" is a masterpiece of comically enhanced jazz, topped only by a cover version waxed a few months later by Thomas Morris and the New Orleans Blue Five. The vaudeville aspect of Louis Armstrong is well represented here, particularly when he is joined by punky-voiced Lil Hardin on "Georgia Grind." May Alix, typical of music hall singers of her day, uses a shrill vibrato to serenade her "Big Butter and Egg Man." The effect, especially when tempered by a humorous vocal from the cornet player, is marvelously old-fashioned. Also included are four Vocalion sides from May of 1926 by the Hot Five -- billed as Lil's Hot Shots -- and two featuring Armstrong with Erskine Tate's Vendome Orchestra. Tate's high-stepping group only managed to record four titles, two in 1923 with Freddie Keppard and the two sizzling stomps issued here. With master percussionist Jimmy Bertrand hitting the cymbals with all his might, the two frantic Tate sides contrast wonderfully with the more compact, intimate sound of Louis Armstrong's Hot Five.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf