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Archive for December 10th, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Louis Armstrong, “The OKeh, Columbia and RCA Victor Recordings 1925-1933”

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Armstrong - Front Cover BoxDuke Ellington famously stated, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” but without Louis Armstrong, Duke would assuredly have had to pose some other question. Bing Crosby, the man owed a debut by every popular singer of the past eighty or so years, described Armstrong as “the beginning and end of music in America” while fellow trumpeter Miles Davis acknowledged that “you can’t play anything on a horn that Louis hasn’t played.” Yet Armstrong is arguably most remembered today by the general public for his latter-day vocals like “What a Wonderful World” and the song that unseated The Beatles from the top of the charts, “Hello, Dolly!,” or for his broad comic persona that detractors felt ignored the strides of the civil rights movement. What made Louis Armstrong so venerated, then? If you don’t know already, you’ll find many of the answers on The OKeh, Columbia and RCA Victor Recordings 1925-1933 (88697 94565 2).

This new 10-CD box set is a comprehensive look at some of Satchmo’s earliest recordings, though not the earliest: extant recording date back even further, to 1923. But these sides are among the most influential ever – not just in jazz, but in all of popular music. This period has been addressed before on authorized releases from Legacy. 1994’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man covered the decade-plus period of 1923-1934 on four discs. Another 4-CD set, 2000’s The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings included not just the core tracks from Armstrong’s all-star studio groups but also out-of-contract performances for the Vocalion label and an alternate take, all recorded between 1925 and 1929. Out of necessity, there is some overlap with those sets. The first eight discs here were previously released by Legacy between 1988 and 1993 as the now out-of-print Armstrong Columbia Jazz Masterpieces series, while Discs 9 and 10 replicate the first two discs of the (also out-of-print) 1997 Complete RCA Victor Recordings. For those who don’t own those releases, however, here’s a handy and affordable way to acquire this essential material.

The so-called “Hot Fives and Hot Sevens” on the first three discs have been called “the Rosetta Stone of jazz,” and these are the songs on which Armstrong built his reputation: breaking new improvisatory ground with each solo (on both cornet and trumpet), finding his voice, developing the phrasing that would influence generations, and in the process virtually inventing what we think of as swing. Armstrong’s singular gift of phrasing extended to both instrumental playing and singing; his was one voice, however it was deployed. Original compositions by the band members dominate these Chicago-recorded tracks. The first Hot Fives group consisted of Armstrong, Kid Ory (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Lil Armstrong (piano/vocal) and Johnny St. Cyr (banjo). John Thomas replaced Ory on trombone, and Pete Briggs joined on tuba and Baby Dodds on drums to create the Hot Sevens. Naturally, these instruments (and instrumentalists) lent those sessions a very different feel. The final recordings on Disc Three are from altered line-ups: Lonnie Johnson (guitar) joins Louis, Lil, Ory, Dodds and St. Cyr in one group, while another includes Louis, Fred Robinson (trombone), Jimmy Strong (clarinet/tenor saxophone), Mancy Carr (banjo), Zutty Singleton (drums) and the remarkable Earl “Fatha” Hines on piano. Most amazingly, it should be remembered that the Hot Fives and Sevens groups were studio bands, not well-rehearsed groups that honed its repertoire on the road. Many of these classic songs were improvised in the studio, on the spot. As Cole Porter once wrote for Louis to sing, “Now you has jazz!”

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Written by Joe Marchese

December 10, 2012 at 12:07

Holiday Gift Guide Review: The Moving Sidewalks, “The Complete Collection”

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The Moving Sidewalks - CompleteBefore ZZ Top, there was The Moving Sidewalks. The dust has been blown off a lost chapter of Texas rock history with RockBeat Records’ release of The Complete Collection (ROC-CD-3018) from Billy Gibbons’ early band. This 2-CD set chronicles, in deluxe style, the four-piece psychedelic blues-rock outfit that emerged from the ashes of The Coachmen and eventually morphed into the first iteration of ZZ Top.

Vocalist and guitarist Gibbons, a native of Houston, founded the psychedelic blues-rock band as a young man in the mid-1960s with Don Summers joining him on bass, Dan Mitchell on drums and Tom Moore on keyboards. The Moving Sidewalks developed a strong local following and found themselves opening for the likes of Austin, Texas’ psych pioneers 13th Floor Elevators, and were signed to the Tantara label for an original album, Flash (1968). You’ll find the album in its entirety on Disc One of the new set. Its ten nuggets combine chunky electric guitar runs and wails of feedback with mesmerizing Hammond organ, anchored by thumping bass and pungent drums. Inspired by the Elevators, the Moving Sidewalks rode the success of the non-LP track “99th Floor” to earn opening slots with the likes of the Young Rascals, The Jeff Beck Group, The Electric Prunes, The Doors, and most notably, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Though the Moving Sidewalks didn’t survive long enough to develop their sound, Flash reveals a group poised for success. It may not have been remarkable enough to propel the Sidewalks beyond the regional level, but it already shows a band drawing on rhythm and blues, pop, rock and the burgeoning psychedelic movement. The album-opening “Flashback,” written by producer Steve Ames, is two songs melded into one. It begins as a standard-issue rocker (“Remember the days when you loved me? Remember the good times and how it used to be?”) rendered aggressively, with enthusiastic vocal echoes (“Just for a second, I’ll check your memory!” “Memory!” or “You’re so far gone, you don’t even know my name!” “Know my name!”) in pop fashion, and prominent, blazing guitar work taking it to the next level. But then the song veers in an entirely different direction, responding to the earlier lyrics (“I remember the days when I loved you/I remember the good times when I had you…”) in a slow, Eastern-inspired mirror image of the earlier verses. The Moving Sidewalks were already practicing their craft as record-makers.

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Written by Joe Marchese

December 10, 2012 at 11:37