Louis Armstrong

Priceless Jazz: More Louis Armstrong

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A fine collection covering the years 1935 to 1956, with a particular emphasis on Louis Armstrong's late-'30s big band sides, More Priceless Jazz is a very good introduction to one of the more overlooked periods of Armstrong's long and varied career. Because Armstrong had made his name with the seminal Hot Five and Hot Seven sides of the late '20s, some fans consider his subsequent move into the big band sound an abandonment of his principles, either not knowing or conveniently forgetting that the pioneering cornet player had first made his name nationally with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in 1924-1925. Armstrong's skills as a soloist helped to revolutionize the big band sound, and the tracks here in that style rank with the work of greats like Ellington and Basie. Focusing about equally on vocal and instrumental takes, this is a solid, well-balanced collection, with the handful of later small group sides cut with the All-Stars showing how Armstrong's playing changed as he settled into his role as the elder statesman of jazz. And contrary to popular belief, his playing did not necessarily deteriorate. A six-and-a-half minute take of the standard "I Surrender Dear," recorded in April, 1950, is a rare opportunity to hear an Armstrong combo -- in this case the classic Teagarden-Hines-Bigard lineup of the All-Stars -- stretch out over the three-minute maximum Armstrong tended to impose even after upgrades in recording technology meant that songs no longer had to fit on one side of a 78. Armstrong solos with what can only be described as a mellow intensity, as the band plays a relaxed, swinging groove. It's only one of many stunning cuts here.

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