Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong & Friends

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Louis Armstrong and His Friends isn't among the trumpeter/singer's essential releases, but it is certainly interesting, enjoyable, and historically important. Recorded in May 1970, Louis Armstrong and His Friends was his next-to-last studio session -- on July 6, 1971, the jazz giant passed away. When this album (which Bluebird/RCA reissued on CD in 2002) was recorded, Armstrong was in poor health; in fact, he wasn't well enough to do any trumpet playing on this album. But he was still able to sing, and he gets his points across on songs that range from "My One and Only Love" and Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" to unlikely choices such as "Give Peace a Chance," Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan (Peace)," and the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome." Produced by Bob Thiele and arranged by Oliver Nelson, Louis Armstrong and His Friends sometimes goes out of its way to sound contemporary (by early-'70s standards). And for the most part, it works. "The Creator Has a Master Plan (Peace)" and "Give Peace a Chance" aren't songs that Armstrong's longtime fans would have expected him to record, but they work surprisingly well for him. Meanwhile, Nelson's string arrangement on "Everybody's Talkin' (Echoes)" sounds dated (although not in a bad way) and even somewhat disco-ish. The disco era didn't really get started until around 1974, but in 1970 there were certain soul arrangers who were paving the way for disco (including Isaac Hayes and the Kenneth Gamble/Leon Huff team). And on "Everybody's Talkin' (Echoes)," Nelson sounds like he was paying close attention to some of the people who were taking soul into the '70s. Again, this CD falls short of essential, but for Armstrong's truly devoted fans, it is a fascinating (if imperfect) album to listen to.

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