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Louis Armstrong: Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars

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Even among the collectors and completists for whom it’s intended, a nine-CD box set is not for listening to en masse. It’s best to break it down into constituent segments. In Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars, those segments comprise eight complete (or complete surviving) concerts, one of them entirely unreleased heretofore; a studio session that was produced into “live” tracks; two extended interviews; and some odds and ends. It’s a lot to process.

But it yields treasures. Most fans already know the Town Hall concert of May 17, 1947-Armstrong’s return from big-band swing to small-group trad, his equivalent to Ellington at Newport. Nearly 70 years on, it remains an indispensable recording. But almost as good (better, in sonic terms) is the never-before-released Carnegie Hall concert from that November, a companion to the more famous Boston Symphony Hall concert. The personnel-trombonist Jack Teagarden, drummer Sid Catlett and clarinetists Peanuts Hucko and Barney Bigard, among others-is top-notch, and the music has the tinge of (re)discovery. Town Hall’s unrehearsed “Big Butter and Egg Man” and “St. Louis Blues,” along with Carnegie Hall’s “Back O’ Town Blues” and “Lover,” exhibit the same freshness and urgency that characterized the then-cresting wave of bebop. Further, “Back O’ Town Blues” might be the deepest blues Armstrong ever committed to tape-and that’s saying something.

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