Hard to believe, but nearly 50 years after his death we’re still hearing new recordings from Louis Armstrong. Live in Europe, the fourth release of the jazz pioneer’s music from Dot Time Records’ Legacy Series, comprises sets from 1948 at the first Nice International Jazz Festival and a 1952 performance in Berlin. These recordings, never before released, were discovered in the archives of the Louis Armstrong House Museum. The audio quality is fine, the shows are fun, and the musicianship is stellar. Armstrong is, after all, the most crucial figure in the development of jazz, a legendary trumpeter, and a uniquely entertaining singer. And his sextets, particularly the 1948 lineup, are top-notch, led by the great pianist Earl Hines.
These are jolly sessions, with a plenitude of marquee moments: The highly rhythmic pianism of “Fatha” Hines that anchors “Panama.” A superbly executed clarinet solo on “Rose Room” by Barney Bigard that ends with a crazy sustain. Grand group interplay on “Them There Eyes” that climaxes with Armstrong’s signature scatting. A wonderful slow romp through “Tin Roof Blues.” Marvelous guest vocals by Velma Middleton on “Can Anyone Explain.” One of the greatest versions of “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” anyone’s ever heard. And, throughout but especially on “Royal Garden Blues,” the piercing, precise solos we’ve come to know from the trumpet master. There are a few warts—Armstrong sounds like he’s singing into a cardboard tube on “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and he stumbles over the title of “Lover Come Back to Me”—but nothing to dissuade anyone from acquiring this disc. With so many Louis Armstrong albums available, you might think anything new at this point would be for completists only. You’d be wrong.