Satchmo and company on the road in the '50s was a precision machine cruising through a repertoire cut to fit at the musical tailor. But the group always seemed to have fun with the music itself, if not the excitement and illusion of a first-ever performance each time. There must have been many shows and many good solos, but few evenings created as much marketable product as a pair of concerts the band did at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, recorded live via arrangements with producer and disc jockey Gene Norman and then scattered like seed pods into the reissue winds. It seems as if each generation yields a new variation on these concerts in release form; in early Decca releases the venue itself was given big play, but the later acquisition by GNP created an intellectual environment wherein the time of day was considered most important, thus the venue is relegated to tiny print in the '70s version, with "An Evening With" taking prominent place in the title. In the meantime the number of sidemen credited became less and less, a direct affront to the philosophy suggested by the "And All Stars" section of the billing. Somewhere in the sequence of reissues, the earlier of the two Pasadena live gigs became identified as volume two, allowing critics to gloat and enjoy the thrill of writing, "This is volume one, but was recorded after volume two." The volumes and their sequencing is really meaningless, as the music has the dreamy quality of timelessness. This was a performance without end, with the songs so familiar to the players and the band secure in their knowledge that they were playing a major part in a living tradition. Surrendering to it, the listener will be sinking into a hot bath as the set starts to unfold, a comfort zone of "Sleepy Time Down South" and "Indiana" swinging sleepily, and punchy versions of "Tin Roof Blues" and "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" with the clarinet of Edmond Hall needling Armstrong like a case of chiggers. An itch in the bathtub? What could be more New Orleans than that? Armstrong also shows his command of the Ellington feel with an enjoyable version of "Perdido" that brings out the best in his trombonist. Armstrong's really big fans will of course want more extensive sets with a more wide-ranging repertoire, but for a casual snatch of this group doing a live gig the Pasadena recordings work well and will probably continue to keep reissue manufacturers busy.
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AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne