Why French compilations of American jazz are invariably superior to American compilations will probably always remain a mystery. Nevertheless, MASTERPIECES 1 is no exception to this phenomenon. A collection of Armstrong's early, extremely influential sides from the '20s, '30s and even the '40s, the album bears a track list that should ring bells with anyone even remotely familiar with New Orleans jazz. The original recordings of "Cornet Chop Suey," "Basin Street Blues," and the phenomenal "West End Blues" are alone worth the price of the CD.
Fortunately, there are 22 stellar tracks, not a dud in the bunch, including "Mahogany Hall Stomp," "Shoe Shine Boy," "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" and sublime cuts of "St. James Infirmary," and "Black and Blue." It should go without saying that Armstrong's playing is outstanding: clear, authoritative, and, given historical context, utterly groundbreaking. His singing is delightful as well--warm, with acute rhythmic sensitivity. Unless you are a completist (in which case you should own the original discs on which these recordings appear), this is perhaps a definitive sampler of the maestro's earliest, and most important work.