Louis Armstrong

Harlem Stomp

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The 12th title in the German History label's 15-CD box set Louis Armstrong, Harlem Stomp chronicles a 21-month period in Armstrong's recording career from the late 1930s to the early 1940s. At this point, Armstrong, fronting Luis Russell's big band, was touring the country tirelessly, pausing only occasionally for a recording session. When he did, Decca Records didn't have too many ideas for him; these relatively few sessions are given over to second-rate novelties and remakes that Armstrong and the band tackle gamely, but without breathing much life into them. The sole exception is a four-song session on May 27, 1940, that finds a small, seven-piece group featuring Armstrong and fellow New Orleanian Sidney Bechet, along with a rhythm section of Wellman Braud and Zutty Singleton, playing some downhome favorites. The album does not contain all of Armstrong's recordings of the period, missing several tracks recorded with the Mills Brothers, but it does present the bulk of them. Universal Music, which controls the Decca catalog, claims copyright on this material in the U.S. (it is in the public domain in Europe). But the box set is readily available domestically at a modest price, which is good since there was no comparable Universal title at the time of its release, meaning that the only other way to obtain these recordings was on the quasi-legal Classics label's Armstrong volumes 1939-1940 (615) and 1940-1942 (685), which are more complete but also more expensive.

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